Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel, Medal of Honor recipient Santiago J. Erevia and Army Secretary John McHugh look at the displays before the Hall of Heroes induction ceremony at the Pentagon in Arlington, Va., on Wednesday. (Mike Morones/Staff)
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Sgt. 1st Class Melvin Morris, a Vietnam veteran, listens as his Medal of Honor citation is read during the induction ceremony at the Pentagon's Hall of Heroes on Wednesday. From left: Army Secretary John McHugh, Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel, Morris, Army Chief of Staff Gen. Ray Odierno and Sergeant Major of the Army Raymond Chandler. (Mike Morones/Staff)
Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel presents Vietnam veteran Sgt. 1st Class Jose Rodela with a Medal of Honor flag during a ceremony at the Pentagon Wednesday. (Mike Morones, staff)
Twenty-four soldiers who for decades were denied the Medal of Honor because of their race or ethnicity were inducted Wednesday into the Pentagon’s Hall of Heroes.
In an emotional ceremony in front of a packed auditorium, the 24 men, dubbed the Valor 24, were honored by top Defense Department and Army leaders for their actions in World War II, Korea and Vietnam.
“This induction serves as the largest single induction of Medal of Honor honorees since World War II,” Army Secretary John McHugh said. “Twenty-four amazing soldiers who will finally take their rightful place in our Hall of Heroes.”
The Pentagon ceremony came just one day after the men — three of them still living — were honored at the White House. President Obama on Tuesday presented the nation’s top valor award to the three soldiers and to the families of those who have died.
The men’s stories “are as diverse as was their service,” McHugh said. “They valiantly, they defiantly, in German forests, on Korean hilltops and in the Vietnam countryside fought against a tremendous and fierce enemy and equally tremendous odds. Each of their stories, when taken alone, is truly breathtaking. But taken together, they really form an incredible volume of history.”
Each of the 24 honorees previously received the Distinguished Service Cross; that award was upgraded to the Medal of Honor.
Congress, through the Defense Authorization Act, called for a review in 2002 of Jewish American and Hispanic American veteran war records from World War II, the Korean War and the Vietnam War to ensure those who deserved the Medal of Honor were not overlooked because of prejudice.
During the review, records of several soldiers of neither Jewish nor Hispanic descent were also found to have criteria worthy of the Medal of Honor. The 2002 Act was amended to allow those soldiers to be honored with the upgrade as well.
“We’re here to correct an injustice in history,” Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel said. “To right 24 wrongs. Today, on the doorstep of our nation’s capital, we honor 24 heroes. Their sacrifice shall never be in vain.”
In his remarks, Army Chief of Staff Gen. Ray Odierno recalled the actions of each man.
“Each of our heroes is different … but they’re all bound together as soldiers,” he said. “It is because of them, through the generations, that I’m so proud to wear this uniform. We have taken too long to recognize these men, but they represent the soul and fabric of this great nation.”