The Buck Stops Here

I don’t watch C-SPAN very often.
I’d rather eat dry toast in a sand storm than follow some obscure Congressional subcommittee on the tube.
But I was flipping through the channels recently and a C-SPAN show from the White House caught my eye and undivided interest.
The show was a taped ceremony of President Obama rewarding 24 veterans with the Congressional Medal of Honor, the nation’s highest award for valor during war. Less than 3,500 have been awarded in our history.
Essentially, the new recipients were Hispanic-American and Jewish veterans who had received the  second highest medal for valor, the Distinguished Service Cross, for their heroism in World War II, the Korean War and the Vietnam War. They had been passed over for the Medal of Honor because of where they worshipped or the color of their skin.
The ceremony was the result of 50 painstaking years of research by Mitchel and Marilyn Libman, of Crown Heights, N.Y.
It began when Mr. Libman began looking into the death of his friend, Leonard Kravitz, during the Korean War.
That name may be familiar to some. His nephew is rock star Lenny Kravitz, who was in attendance at the ceremony.
What the Libmans found was that 138 Jews had won the Distinguished Service Cross in the three modern wars, but only two had received the Medal of Honor.
The Libmans found that wanting and began pushing to get the veterans their rightful due. It finally triggered a Congressional review and the medals were upgraded for the 24 recent recipients.
Only three of them are still alive and their family members or friends accepted in most cases. While age had a lot to do with it, the fact is that many recipients of the Medal of Honor died winning it.
As each medal was awarded, a narrator read a synopsis of what the recipients did to earn it and the stories were astounding.
Army Pfc. Kravitz was upgraded for holding off a much-superior force of Chinese by himself during a Korean battle.
Kravitz yelled for his comrades to retreat before they were overrun and laid down machine gun fire, allowing his unit to escape. The next day he was found dead with six bullets left in the gun and dead Chinese soldiers all around him.
Army Lt. Donald K. Schwab of Nebraska was upgraded for taking on a line of German machine gunners head-on by himself while serving in France during World War II. He grabbed one of the gunners and pulled him back to American lines.
Seeing his heroism, the rest of the German turned tail and ran for their lives, saving more American lives. Schwab died in 2005.
While serving in Vietnam, Army Sgt. Jose Rodela of Texas and his men were pinned down by mortar, rocket and machine gun fire in an 18-hour battle.
While assisting the wounded and rallying his men, Rodela was hit in the head and back by rocket shrapnel. He then assaulted the rocket position and knocked it out. President Obama pinned the Medal of Honor on him during the ceremony.
The ceremony was as moving as anything I’ve ever watched on TV. It was as emotional as the televised funeral of President John F. Kennedy.
It also pointed out how pervasive racism can be. It’s bad enough that we denied some people equal rights for years.
To deny them full honors for putting their lives on the line for their country points to how bad it was and in many circles continues to be.
Racism will be with us as long as insecure people conceal their ignorance with hate.
By awarding the 24 Medals of Honor in retrospect, our country thwarted prior hate and honored two dozen men the way they should have been years ago.
I call that progress, lengthy and overdue, but progress all the same.

Posted on Tuesday, April 1, 2014 at 12:25 pm