WASHINGTON -- The 1st Infantry Division's senior noncommissioned officer represented one of the families of the "Valor 24" group during the March 18 White House ceremony awarding the nation's highest award for bravery, the Medal of Honor.
President Barack Obama posthumously awarded the Medal of Honor to Sgt. Candelario Garcia. The 1st Inf. Div.'s Command Sgt. Maj. Michael A. Grinston received the medal on behalf of Garcia and his surviving family members. Garcia, a former "Big Red One" Soldier, received a Distinguished Service Cross, the nation's second-highest award for bravery for his actions above and beyond the call of duty in Vietnam in Dec., 1968.
Congressional review and a directive in the 2002 National Defense Authorization Act led to a review of Distinguished Service Crosses from World War II, the Korean War and the Vietnam War, according to information released by the Army. Reviewers scrutinized Hispanic American and Jewish American Soldiers' records, ultimately recommending 24 upgrades to the Medal of Honor, including Garcia's.
"It was a rare privilege and absolute honor to represent the Garcia family for the 'Big Red One,'" Grinston said after the ceremony. "It was a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to see a chapter in our division's history rewritten to recognize an American hero long denied his rightful award."
Garcia's surviving Family members asked the division to represent him in the White House and Pentagon ceremonies. While serving as a team leader in the division's 1st Brigade near Lai Khe, Vietnam, Garcia destroyed two enemy machine-gun positions in an attempt to aid wounded Soldiers who were under fire, according to the original award citation. Ignoring a hail of enemy bullets, Garcia crawled close to the enemy position, leapt to his feet and subsequently ran directly toward the fortification, jamming hand grenades into the gun port and following that with rifle fire, killing all of the enemy combatants inside.
Continuing to expose himself to hostile enemy action, Garcia raced another 15 meters to a second bunker and put that one out of commission by using a lethal mix of grenades and rifle fire. After rescuing two wounded comrades through yet another hail of enemy fire, he rejoined the rest of his company in an assault that ultimately overran the remaining enemy.
Garcia returned to Texas after the war and died Jan. 10, 2013, in Corsicana, Texas.
"Reading the citation and talking to his family gave me a pretty good idea of the type of man Sgt. Garcia was," Grinston said. "I wish we had an opportunity to recognize him properly when he was still with us."
Garcia's actions that day earned him the Distinguished Service Cross, but similar actions from other conflicts earned other Soldiers the Medal of Honor. Garcia wasn't alone in this as other Soldiers performed acts of seemingly unbelievable bravery, but their awards were similarly stopped short of the Medal of Honor.
Grinston also represented the Garcia family during the March 19 Hall of Heroes induction at the Pentagon, where the name plaques of all previous Medal of Honor recipients are on display.
Sgt. Alfred B. Neitzel, of 1st Inf. Div.'s 2nd Bn., 16th Inf. Regt., was also honored for his November 1944 actions in Hestern, Germany, that resulted in his death. He was represented at the ceremonies by his cousin.