US & Canada

Medal of Honor awarded to two dozen veterans

President Barack Obama is awarding America's highest military honour to 24 men previously denied the decoration because of discrimination.

Only three veterans receiving the Medal of Honor on Tuesday are still alive, all of whom served in Vietnam. The rest will be decorated posthumously.

The honours follow a 12-year Pentagon review of veterans affected by bias.

The recipients include Hispanic, African-American and Jewish veterans of World War Two, Korea and Vietnam.

On Tuesday afternoon Mr Obama welcomed the living veterans and family and friends of the deceased in a ceremony at the White House.

Climate of bias

"This ceremony reminds us of one of the enduring qualities that makes America great," said the president. "That makes us exceptional.

"No nation is perfect, but here in America, we confront our imperfections and face a sometimes painful past, including the truth that some of these soldiers fought and died for a country that did not always see them as equal."

Retired Sgt First Class Melvin Morris, who was wounded in Vietnam, told the BBC beforehand that it would be "a nervous moment" standing next to the president.

"I can't be nothing but proud," he said. "Even though it may come late, better late than never."

US President Barack Obama stands alongside Lenora Alvarado as he awards a Medal of Honor to her late father Army Specialist Four Leonard Alvarado during a ceremony in the East Room of the White House in Washington on 18 March 2014
Lenora Alvarado as her late father was awarded a Medal of Honor

Sgt Morris, 72, is being honoured for his courage as a strike force commander in combat near Chi Lang, Vietnam, in 1969.

During a fire fight near a minefield, Sgt Morris rallied his comrades to retrieve the body of another commander who had been killed near an enemy bunker.

In the first go, two men alongside Sgt Morris were wounded. He rescued them, then returned under fire, destroying a machine gun position and three bunkers.

As he brought the commander's body back to the US position, he was wounded three times.

In addition to Sgt Morris, Specialist Santiago Erevia and Sgt First Class Jose Rodela will be given the Medal of Honor for their valour in combat in Tam Ky and Phuoc Long, Vietnam, respectively.

A further five Vietnam veterans, nine Korean War veterans, and seven World War Two veterans will be honoured with the award posthumously.

The Medal of Honor is usually awarded within three years of the action described in the citation.

But a 2002 law mandated a search for Jewish and Hispanic soldiers who might have been passed over for the award in the 20th Century's climate of anti-Semitic and ethnic bias among the military brass.

The law was later amended after the review found other soldiers whose actions merited the medal.

The three-year time limit has been waived in recent years for Capt Emil Kapaun, an Army chaplain and Catholic priest who saved the lives of fellow US soldiers before perishing in a North Korean prison camp in 1951.

The widow of Specialist Leslie Sabo was given the honour by Mr Obama in 2012, four decades after his original recommendation was lost.

President Barack Obama awards the Medal of Honor to former US Army Staff Sgt Melvin Morris at the White House on 18 March 2014
Former US Army Staff Sgt Melvin Morris gets his dues

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