WASHINGTON (Army News Service, May 2, 2011) -- Representatives from the families of two Soldiers -- Pfc. Anthony Kaho'ohanohano and Pfc. Henry Svehla, who gave their lives for their comrades in Korea -- proudly received the Medal of Honor from President Barack Obama in the East Room of the White House, May 2, 2011.
Members of the families flew to Washington, D.C., from their homes in Hawaii, Texas, and New Jersey. They were joined by with Sen. Daniel Akaka of Hawaii and Congressman Bill Pascrell of New Jersey, who both sponsored the provision in the National Defense Authorization Act authorizing the Army to award posthumously the highest honor for conspicuous gallantry and intrepidity at the risk of life above and beyond the call of duty.
Also on hand for the occasion were Secretary of Defense Robert Gates, Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Adm. Mike Mullin, Vice Chairman Gen. James Cartwright, Vice Chief of Staff of the Army Gen. Peter Chiarelli, Secretary of Veterans Affairs Eric Shinseki, Sgt. Maj. of the Army Raymond Chandler and Michelle Obama.
"In the hearts of their families, they remain forever young," President Obama said of the Soldiers who died at ages 19 and 21.
"Loving sons, protective brothers, hometown kids who stood tall in America's hometowns, in America's uniforms. Today we honor them with the highest military decoration that our nation can bestow, the Medal of Honor. And in doing so, we also honor their families," Obama said.
President Obama also made special mention of three top DoD leaders for their roles in the mission to eliminate bin Laden.
"This is not in the script, but let me just acknowledge that without the leadership of Bob Gates, Mike Mullin, Hoss Cartwright, today and yesterday would not have happened and their steadiness and leadership has been extraordinary. I could not be prouder of them, and I am so grateful that they have been part of our team," Obama said as applause grew louder from the audience.
Obama also made special mention of Soldiers who fought in Korea and traveled far to attend today's ceremony, and the Medal of Honor Society members who came to welcome two more Soldiers into their ranks.
During his introduction of Anthony Kaho'ohanohano, Obama said that "Tony grew up in Hawaii, in Maui. He learned early that we have a duty to others - from his father, a dedicated police officer, and his mother, who devoted herself to their nine children.
"He loved swimming in the ocean and playing basketball - sounds like my kind of guy," Obama said.
Because the state is so small and the Kaho'ohanohano family is so large, the president remembered he went to high school with one of their cousins, Whitey.
"This is a remarkable family. Service defines them. Tony's father and all six sons served in the military. Another member of the family has served in Afghanistan. Nearly 30 members of the family have traveled from Hawaii to be here, including Tony's sister Elaine and brother Eugene.
About the time that Tony was inspiring his men, Obama continued, another young Soldier was joining up with the 7th Infantry Division in Korea -- Pfc. Henry Svehla. Henry grew up in New Jersey. He loved fishing on the Jersey shore. He was one of six kids and the youngest son, but the one who seemed to take care of everybody else.
"His sister Dorothy remembers how their mom would be in the kitchen, at the end of a long day, trying to cook dinner for six kids. Henry, a teenager, would walk in, grab his mother's hand and dance her around the kitchen. "If anybody needed him," said Dorothy, "Henry was there."
"Henry Svehla's body has never been recovered. That's a wound in the heart of his family that has never been fully healed. It's also a reminder that, as a nation, we must never forget those who didn't come home, are missing in action, who were taken prisoner of war -- and we must never stop trying to bring them back to their families.
As commander-in-chief, Obama told the audience he could not be prouder of the men and women in uniform.
"That is true now, in today's wars. It has been true in all of our wars. And it is why we are here today.
"Long ago, a poet of the First World War wrote of the sacrifice of young Soldiers in war:
They shall not grow old, as we that are left grow old,
Age shall not weary them, nor the years condemn.
At the going down of the sun and in the morning
We will remember them," Obama recited.
Following the formal ceremony, the families gathered outside the East Room for a reception where George Kaho'ohanohano, his wife Barbara, and the other members of the family presented President and Michelle Obama, and Sen. Akaka with special leis, called maile, made of leaves and presented with an open end, not closed, so that it keeps on giving.