By J.D. LeipoldMarch 5, 2014
WASHINGTON (Army News Service, March 5, 2014) -- Eight Vietnam-era Soldiers will be awarded the Medal of Honor at a March 18 White House ceremony. The Medal of Honor is the nation's highest military award for gallantry and valorous actions.
Three Medals of Honor will be awarded to living veterans and five to the families of deceased Soldiers who served in Vietnam. At the same time, President Barack Obama will award Medals of Honor posthumously to seven Soldiers who served in World War II and nine who fought in Korea.
In fact, most Medals of Honor since the award's creation in 1862 have been posthumous and awarded to families of the fallen.
The Soldiers are receiving the medals for their heroic actions in combat for which they were originally awarded the Distinguished Service Cross, or DSC, the nation's second highest military decoration for bravery.
DSC upgrades to Medals of Honor are rare. Of 13,000 DSCs awarded since 1917, only 178 have been upgraded to Medals of Honor, following re-evaluations and reviews of additional supporting evidence.
Until now, 161 U.S. Soldiers have received Medals of Honor for heroic actions in Vietnam to save their fellow brothers-in-arms from enemy forces.
50 YEARS AGO
After the French left what had formerly been a colony called French Indochina, two new countries were created in its place: North Vietnam, with a communist government supported by the Soviet Union and China; and South Vietnam, with a democratic government supported with advisors and equipment from the United States.
As had happened with North and South Korea, in North Vietnam the communist government wanted to reunite with South Vietnam under one flag. After seeing what had happened in Korea, the U.S. became more concerned about the rise of communism in surrounding Southeast Asia.
On March 8, 1965, America's ground war in Vietnam started when 3,500 U.S. Marines were deployed with the American public's support. By Christmas, nearly 200,000 Soldiers, Marines, Airmen and Sailors were in the country. At war's end, on April 30, 1975, nearly 3 million Americans had served on the ground, in the air and on the South China Sea.
Nearly 41,000 American service members lost their lives as a result of direct combat. But the total death toll was higher: a total of 58,280 veterans died from combat injuries or illnesses brought on by their Vietnam tours.
Sgt. Candelario Garcia Jr., Company B, 1st Battalion, 2nd Infantry Regiment, 1st Brigade., 1st Infantry Division, will be a posthumous recipient of the Medal of Honor.
On Dec. 8, 1968, Garcia, known as "Cid" to his family and battle buddies, found himself leading a company-sized reconnaissance team through the thick jungle area to the west of Lai Khe, a small settlement on the outskirts of Saigon. Since Lai Khe was home to the 5th Division of the Army of the Republic of Vietnam and also served as headquarters for the U.S. Army's Big Red One, it was a magnet for attacks by the Viet Cong and the North Vietnam Army.
Soon the 23-year-old's platoon discovered communication wire and others signs of an enemy base camp leading into a densely vegetated area. Crouching low and moving silently and slowly following the wire, the Soldiers suddenly came under intense fire that wounded and trapped two of Garcia's men in the open.
Ignoring a hailstorm of bullets zinging around him, Garcia crawled to within 10 meters of a machine-gun bunker, then leapt to his feet and frontally charged, firing constantly as he ran toward the bunker. He then jammed two hand grenades into the gun port and rammed the muzzle of his M16 into the side of the fortification, killing the four occupants. While exposed to intense enemy fire from another machine-gun nest, he sprinted 15 meters and killed its three defenders with grenades and rifle fire.
After braving a barrage of enemy fire to rescue his two wounded Soldiers, he rejoined his unit in an assault which overran the remaining enemy positions. For his extraordinary heroism, he was awarded the Distinguished Service Cross on April 4, 1969.
He passed away at age 68 on Jan. 10, 2013 in his hometown of Corsicana, Texas. A week following his death, Garcia's family was notified that the heroic, selfless actions for which he received the DSC had been reviewed and upgraded to the Medal of Honor.
SGT. 1ST CLASS CONDE-FALCON
On April 4, 1969 -- the very day Garcia received his DSC -- Sgt. 1st Class Felix M. Conde-Falcon of Chicago was leading a platoon of Company D, 1st Battalion, 505th Infantry, 3rd Brigade, 82 Airborne Division. On a sweep operation in the heavily wooded area of Ap Tan Hoa, roughly 60 miles northwest of what was then Saigon.
As the Soldiers moved silently forward, the company discovered an extensive enemy bunker complex which was later identified as a battalion command post. After calling in tactical artillery and air strikes on the heavily-secured fortifications, Conde-Falcon's platoon was ordered to assault and clear the bunker.
Leading from the front, Conde-Falcon charged the first bunker, heaving grenades as he ran. As enemy fire picked up, he hit the dirt, crawling to the blind side of an entrenchment position, jumped to the roof and slipped a grenade into the bunker aperture. Without hesitating, he ran to the next two bunkers, destroying them with grenades as he had done the first.
Rejoining his platoon, he advanced through the trees about 100 meters before coming under intense enemy fire. Selecting three Soldiers from his platoon, he maneuvered his team toward the enemy's flank position. Armed with a machine gun, 31-year-old Conde-Falcon single-handedly assaulted the nearest fortification, killing the enemy inside, but expending all his ammunition. Undaunted, he returned to his team and took up an M16 assault rifle, then concentrated his fire on the next bunker. Within 10 meters of his objective, he was mortally wounded by multiple fragmentation injuries.
For his extraordinary courage, heroism and devotion to duty at the cost of his life, the Conde-Falcon family accepted on their Soldier's behalf the Distinguished Service Cross (posthumously) on June 9, 1969. Following a recent review, Conde-Falcon's DSC was upgraded to the Medal of Honor and will be accepted by his son, Richard who was just age three when his father was killed-in-action.
Six days following the heroic actions and death of Conde-Falcon, then-Spc. 4 Jesus S. Duran would also step beyond the call of duty and put his life on the line to save two fellow troopers.
On April 10, 1969, while serving as a heavy machine gunner on a search-and-clear operation with Company E, 2nd Battalion, 5th Cavalry, 1st Cavalry Division (Airmobile), Duran's reconnaissance platoon was moving into an elaborate enemy bunker complex when the point and lead Soldiers began taking concentrated ambush fire from every side.
With his nearly 24-lb. M-60 machine gun blazing from his hip, Duran rushed forward and assumed a defensive position near the command post. As enemy forces stormed the post, he stood tall as enemy rounds and bursting grenades raised a cloud of dust around him. Thwarting the chargers with devastating streams of belt-fed 7.62mm rounds, he learned that two of his fellow troopers lay seriously wounded and helplessly pinned down under harassing fire.
Duran assaulted the suppressive enemy positions, continuing to spit out deadly bursts of fire on the run. Mounting a log, he fired directly into the enemy's foxholes, killing four. As the panicked and disorganized enemy fled, Duran continued to pour fire, killing several more of the enemy until they retreated. He later received DSC for his gallant actions.
After leaving the Army, Duran pursued a career as a corrections officer at a juvenile detention center in San Bernardino, Calif. While working there, he dedicated numerous hours of personal time to mentor youth and lead them on educational trips.
Following a recent review, Duran's DSC was upgraded to the Medal of Honor which will be accepted by his step-daughter, Tina Duran-Ruvalcaba.
SPC. 4 ALVARADO
On Aug. 12, 1969, Spc. 4 Leonard L. Alvarado, a 22-year-old draftee from Bakersfield, Calif., was serving as a rifleman during a mission to relieve a trapped sister platoon in Phuoc Long Province near the Cambodia and South Vietnam border.
As he and his teammates of Company D, 2nd Battalion, 12th Cavalry, 1st Cavalry Division, moved stealthily through dense jungle, Alvarado detected enemy movement and opened fire. Despite his quick reaction, he and his small reaction force were quickly pinned down by the enemy who blocked the path to the trapped platoon.
Alvarado quickly moved forward through hostile machine-gun fire to engage the enemy troops until suddenly an enemy grenade exploded nearby, wounding him with shrapnel shards and momentarily stunning him. Retaliating, he took out the grenadier, just as another barrage of fire wounded him a second time. Refusing to give up, Alvarado crawled forward through a fusillade of fire to pull several comrades back with their hastily-formed perimeter.
Realizing his fellow Soldiers needed to fall back farther and not wanting to draw fire to them, Alvarado began maneuvering forward alone. He was repeatedly thrown to the jungle carpet by exploding satchel charges. Still he advanced, spraying fire and silencing several emplacements, including a machine-gun position, eventually causing the enemy troops to break contact and retreat.
When Alvarado's comrades came forward to assist him, they discovered he had succumbed to his wounds after saving the lives of several of his comrades, leaving behind his wife and infant daughter.
For his extraordinary heroism and devotion to duty at the cost of his life, Alvarado was awarded the Distinguished Service Cross (posthumous) on Oct. 23, 1969. Following a recent review of his actions, Alvarado's DSC was upgraded to the Medal of Honor.
Lenora M. Alvarado will accept the Medal of Honor on behalf of her father. She was just 10 months old when he was killed. It wasn't until she was age eight that her family told her about her father. A few years later she was able to visit his grave but it wasn't until she was in her early 20s that she found out about his heroic actions during the war. Today, she is a member of Sons and Daughters of Vietnam Veterans.
SPC. 4 COPAS
Spc. 4 Ardie Ray Copas of Fort Pierce, Fla., was serving as a machine gunner aboard an M113 armored personnel carrier conducting operations in Cambodia during the early morning of May 12, 1970, when suddenly Company C, 1st Battalion, 5th Infantry Regiment, 25th Infantry Division was attacked by a large force firing recoilless rifles, rocket-propelled grenades and automatic weapons.
While returning fire, his armored car was hit by a recoilless round, slamming the 19-year-old to the ground and injuring four fellow Soldiers beside the vehicle. Undaunted and ignoring his wounds, Copas remounted the burning vehicle and commenced laying down intense M2 Browning machine-gun fire at the enemy.
Braving hostile fire directed at him and the possible detonation of mortar rounds that had landed inside the track of the 12 ton vehicle, Copas maintained a heavy volume of suppressive fire on the enemy as the four wounded Soldiers were evacuated. He continued to slam home devastating volleys of .50-caliber fire until he was mortally wounded when another enemy round hit his vehicle.
For his daring actions, which resulted in the safe evacuation of his four comrades and prevented injuries or deaths to fellow Soldiers, Copas was awarded the Distinguished Service Cross (posthumously) for extraordinary heroism and devotion to duty at the cost of his life.
Following a recent review of his actions, Copas's DSC was upgraded to the Medal of Honor which will be accepted by Shyrell Jean Copas on behalf of her uncle.
LIVING RECIPIENTS TO RECEIVE MEDAL OF HONOR
Then-Sgt. 1st Class Jose Rodela of Detachment B-36, Co. A, 5th Special Forces Group (Airborne), 1st Special Forces will also receive the Medal of Honor. (See separate story by Dave Vergun.)
Then-Staff Sgt. Melvin Morris of Detachment A-403, Co. D, 5th Special Forces Group (Airborne), 1st Special Forces is also receiving the Medal of Honor. (See separate story by Lisa A. Ferdinando.)
Then-Spc 4 Santiago J. Erevia, 2nd Brigade Combat Team, 101st Airborne Div. (Air Assault) is receiving the Medal of Honor as well. (See separate story by Elizabeth M. Collins.)
The U.S. Army will induct the Medal of Honor recipients into the Pentagon's Hall of Heroes in a March 19th ceremony. Interested media should contact Army public affairs at 703-697-2163 or Tatjana Christian at Tatjana.firstname.lastname@example.org.
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