By Gen. Ray Odierno, chief of staff of the Army March 20, 2014
WASHINGTON (March 19, 2014) -- General Odierno: Good morning, everyone. It's an honor for me to stand here today, wearing this uniform representing all soldiers past and present, and honoring our comrades, these 24 great men who gave their lives and sacrificed so much for our country.
Secretary of Defense Hagel, we are grateful for your incredible dedication. Thank you so much for being here. Secretary of the Army McHugh, thank you for your continued leadership and all that you do to ensure that all our Soldiers are properly recognized. Sergeant Major of the Army Chandler, thank you for your leadership of our enlisted force. Deputy Secretary of Defense and Under Secretary of Defense, thank you so much for being here. Other leaders, general officers, Congressmen, Senators, and family members, it's an honor for me to be here today.
In the faces of our recipients and their relatives, we see the faces of 24 heroes. They are the faces of a diverse Army and a diverse America, faces that have shaped our Nation's history, built this Nation's strength, and defended this Nation's security. Our Nation and our Army are strong because in every war, in every generation, men and women, citizens and immigrants, have raised their right hand to defend the Constitution of the United States. In doing so, they committed themselves to a cause greater than themselves, to the ideals of this Nation.
Each of our heroes are different whether it be their rank, age, unit, campaign, geographic, ethnic, or religious diversity. But they are all bound together as Soldiers, ordinary men who, under the most chaotic and difficult conditions, displayed extraordinary courage at the risk of their own lives to protect their fellow Soldiers and accomplish the mission. It is because of men like them, through the generations, that I'm so proud to wear this uniform.
70 years ago, the United States called upon millions of Americans to defend the Nation in World War II. Today, we recognize the actions of seven remarkable Soldiers.
In the closing days of the Anzio Campaign, Private First Class Salvador Lara of the 45th Infantry Division, led a squad assault on multiple enemy strong points with such ferocity that numerous enemy soldiers were killed, surrendered, or abandoned their posts.
Private Joe Gandara, three days after the 82nd Airborne's invasion of Normandy, France, advanced alone while his compatriots were pinned down by enemy fire to destroy three machine-gun nests before he was fatally wounded.
First Lieutenant Donald Schwab, of the 3rd Infantry Division, charged a heavily reinforced German emplacement and by taking an enemy Soldier hostage, caused the enemy unit to withdraw from their superior defensive positions.
Fellow 3rd Infantry Division Soldier, Private First Class William Leonard, led the eight surviving members of his platoon to eliminate two machine guns nests and capture their objective in Saint Die, France.
Ignoring the severity of his wounds, Staff Sergeant Manuel, of the 88th Infantry Division, engaged 200 enemy troops advancing on Mount Battaglia, Italy, killing 30 of them and successfully defending the key terrain.
Sergeant Alfred Nietzel of 1st Infantry Division, gave his life in his efforts to slow the advance of enemy soldiers and cover the retreat of his squad mates during brutal operations in Germany's Hurtgen Forest.
In the same campaign, Private Pedro Cano of the 4th Infantry Division, singlehandedly destroyed eight machine gun emplacements and killed nearly 30 enemy troops.
In the five long months that followed, the actions of these Soldiers contributed immeasurably to the Allied Victory in Europe.
Only five short years later, President Truman again mobilized the country for war, this time to repel the advances of Communist North Korea. Today, we honor the extraordinary actions of nine Korean War Veterans.
Sergeant Eduardo Gomez, of the 1st Cavalry Division, demolished an enemy tank and held his ground in the face of an unyielding enemy force, exacting heavy enemy casualties and delaying the enemy's advance on friendly positions.
Alongside fellow 1st Cavalryman, Master Sergeant Michael Pena, a Veteran of World War II, ordered his unit to retreat in the face of a relentless enemy, and sacrificed himself to cover their safe withdrawal.
Corporal Joe Baldonado of the 187th Airborne Regiment (Rakkasans) repeatedly disrupted wave after wave of enemy assaults until a grenade took his life during the enemy's final withdrawal.
24th Infantry Division Soldier, Private First Class Leonard Kravitz covered the retreat of his squad mates, successfully halting the enemy's advance until he was killed by enemy fire.
As enemy forces counterattacked his platoon's position, Sergeant Jack Weinstein, also of 24th Infantry Division, refused orders to withdraw and inflicted multiple casualties on the enemy until another platoon arrived to drive back the enemy's forces.
3rd Infantry Division Soldier, Master Sergeant Juan Negron, similarly refused to abandon his position under heavy enemy fire, attacking the enemy at close range with small weapons fire and hand grenades until friendly forces arrived the next morning.
Private Demensio Rivera, also of the 3rd Infantry Division, took extraordinary measures to repulse enemy forces with every means available, including the use of his last hand grenade to kill enemy soldiers in close proximity to himself.
Corporal Victor Espinoza, of the 2nd Infantry Division, destroyed four enemy strong points and an enemy tunnel system in the Chorwan Valley, killing 14 and wounding 11.
Despite suffering wounds from a previous battle, fellow 2nd Infantry Division Soldier, Private Miguel Vera, fighting in the same valley, attacked a critical enemy emplacement, and later lost his life when covering the withdrawal of his squad.
In three years of fierce fighting, these nine Soldiers, alongside hundreds of thousands of other Americans, turned back the tide of the Communist advance against South Korea. And all you have to do today is visit South Korea today, to understand the difference these men made in the lives of millions of people.
In 1965, the American ground war in Vietnam began. Today, we reflect upon the commensurate service and sacrifice of our Vietnam Veterans and their families who bore a heavy burden during and following a divisive war, teaching our Nation an invaluable lesson about honoring one's service regardless of politics. We pay tribute to the exceptional heroism of eight Soldiers.
1st Infantry Division Soldier, Sergeant Candelario Garcia, destroyed two bunkers and rescued several wounded comrades before rejoining his platoon to overrun the remaining enemy positions.
Staff Sergeant Felix Conde-Falcon of the 82nd Airborne Division, led his platoon on an assault on an enemy command post, and personally eliminated four bunkers before he was fatally wounded.
Specialist Four Jesus Duran, of the 1st Calvary Division, thwarted an enemy attack on the unit's command post by assaulting multiple enemy positions, killing four and forcing the enemy's hasty withdrawal.
When his unit was pinned down attempting to rescue another platoon, fellow 1st Cav Soldier, Specialist Four Leonard Alvarado maneuvered forward alone to destroy multiple enemy emplacements before he was struck down by enemy fire.
25th Infantry Division Soldier, Specialist Four Ardie Copas, was mortally wounded while safeguarding the evacuation of fellow Soldiers during an attack by superior forces in Cambodia.
While administering first aid, Specialist Four Santiago Erevia of the 101st Airborne Division, came under heavy fire and took immediate action to silence four enemy bunkers and their occupants, preventing his company from being overrun.
Staff Sergeant Melvin Morris, of the 5th Special Forces Group, acted decisively during a fierce enemy attack, to retrieve the body of his team commander and other wounded Soldiers, and launch a counterattack that destroyed four enemy bunkers.
As a company commander in the 5th Special Forces Group, Sergeant First Class Jose Rodela advanced alone under intense enemy fire to destroy a B-40 rocket position and reorganize the company's defensive perimeter, preventing the enemy from overrunning the battalion.
Every one of these stories is awe-inspiring. Taken together, the actions of these 24 Soldiers are an incredible illustration of the competence, commitment, and character resident in our Soldiers, in our Veterans, and in our Army.
In closing, let us pause to remember the sacrifices of every Soldier who gave their last full measure on a distant battlefield. As Sergeant First Class (Retired) Melvin Morris reminds us, it is "those that aren't even here to receive their medals - those are my heroes. They gave their whole life. They gave everything. They gave it all."
We are a Nation that stands for liberty and freedom and we believe that all should be given the opportunity to fulfill their dreams. We have taken too long to recognize these men. But they represent the soul and fabric of this great Nation for which they so nobly served. We not only honor their courage and service but we recognize the everlasting impact they have had on this great Nation.
The strength of our Nation is our Army. The strength of our Army is our Soldiers. The strength of our Soldiers is our Families. And this is what makes us Army Strong. (Applause)
End of Remarks.