Obama awards 24 Medals of Honor to overlooked minority soldiers

When his Korean outpost was overrun with enemy fighters, Pfc. Demensio Rivera did not yield.

On that night in May 1951, Rivera fought in the darkness with his automatic rifle and his pistol until he was down to his final hand grenade. Rivera pulled the pin as enemy soldiers charged his bunker, killing four foes and suffering wounds he would later die from.

The attack in Changyongni was repelled.

Nearly 63 years later on Tuesday, Rivera's granddaughter, Sgt. Ashley Randall, traveled from Hinesville, Ga., to accept the Medal of Honor on behalf of Rivera in a White House ceremony. The Puerto Rican private was one of 24 veterans of World War II, the Korean War and the Vietnam War to be so honored, after a Pentagon review determined they were unjustly denied the medal because of their heritage.

“Some of these soldiers fought and died for a country that did not always see them as equal,” President Barack Obama said. He added, “This is the length to which America will go to make sure everyone who serves under our proud flag receives the thanks they deserve.”

The medals awarded Tuesday were the result of a 2002 Congressional decree to find Hispanic and Jewish veterans who might have missed out on the nation's highest combat honor due to prejudice. Tuesday's group was the biggest class of Medal of Honor winners since World War II.

Only three of the men honored Tuesday are still alive, all Vietnam veterans: Master Sgt. Jose Rodela, of San Antonio; Sgt. 1st Class Melvin Morris, of Cocoa, Fla.; and Sgt. Santiago Erevia, of San Antonio.