Medal of Honor recipients Sgt. Manuel V. Mendoza (left) and 1st Lt. Donald K. Schwab.
World War II veterans Master Sgt. Manuel V. Mendoza (left) and 1st Lt. Donald K. Schwab. Photo by AP
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The White House announced Friday that 24 Jewish, Hispanic and African-American veterans will be awarded the Medal of Honor, the highest military award in the United States.

All of the veterans had previously received the Distinguished Service Cross, the nation’s second highest military award, for their bravery in World War II, the Korean War or the Vietnam War. It will be upgraded to a Medal of Honor in a ceremony with President Barack Obama on March 14.

The upgrade was triggered by the 2002 Defense Authorization Act, in which Congress called for a review of Jewish-American and Hispanic-American veteran service files, to ensure that deserving veterans were not being denied the Medal of Honor because of racial prejudice.

As the military reviewed the service files these past 12 years, a number of veterans that were neither Jewish nor Hispanic were found to have been deserving of the honor and will also receive the award.

“In this instance, justice was delayed but not denied,” said Abraham Foxman, national director of the Anti-Defamation League. “It is a very welcome effort and show of sensitivity by this administration to seek to redress acts of discrimination, and this recognition is especially praiseworthy in that it relates to soldiers who fought so bravely on behalf of this country in America’s wars.”

Just three of the 24 veterans to be honored are still alive. One of the veterans to posthumously receive the Medal of Honor is Pfc. Leonard M. Kravitz. A Jewish assistant machine gunner with Company M, 5th Infantry Regiment, 24th Infantry Division, Kravitz earned his distinction in Korea on March 7, 1951. When he and his platoon were ordered to retreat in the face of Chinese attackers, he refused to retreat, took over the machine gun and shouted, “Get the hell out of here while you can!”

He was later found dead lying over the machine gun among a large number of dead Chinese combatants.