It was last spring, eight years after the death of his father, when Terry Schwab of Fort Scott, Kan., received the phone call.
A voice said, “Hold one second for the president of the United States,” and the next voice was Barack Obama’s.
The Pentagon had informed Schwab the day before that the White House was giving a “special award” to Schwab’s dad, World War II veteran Donald K. Schwab. And Obama personally confirmed it: the Medal of Honor.
“My father was a very humble man,” Terry Schwab told The Kansas City Star on Saturday. “But we’re all just thrilled to death that he was considered deserving.”
Donald Schwab, who has several surviving relatives in the Kansas City area, is among 24 heroes, living and deceased, selected to receive the U.S. military’s highest honor next month.
Schwab, who was 86 when he died in 2005 in his Nebraska hometown, is being honored for his actions in combat near Lure, France, on Sept. 17, 1944.
On that day, he led a group of men charging a line of German machine guns. Against enemy fire and with his troops falling around him, Donald Schwab rushed the enemy alone and took out a German pistol nest.
Also among those to be honored March 18 is Sgt. Jack Weinstein of St. Francis in the northwest corner of Kansas. He will be cited posthumously for courageous actions during combat operations in South Korea. Obama is bestowing the medals as a way to try to correct potential acts of bias spanning three wars. The unusual mass ceremony will come after a decade-long congressionally mandated review of minorities who may have been passed over for the Medal of Honor because of long-held prejudices. The ceremony will honor veterans, most of Hispanic or Jewish heritage, who already had been recognized with the Distinguished Service Cross, the nation’s second-highest military award. The Army conducted the review under a directive from Congress in the 2002 National Defense Authorization Act. The law required that the record of each Jewish American and Hispanic American veteran who received a Service Cross during or after World War II be reviewed for possible upgrade to the Medal of Honor. The review also identified other soldiers deserving of the honor. The Pentagon said the Army reviewed the cases of the 6,505 recipients of the Distinguished Service Cross from World War II and the Korean and Vietnam wars and found an eligible pool of 600 soldiers who may have been Jewish or Hispanic.
Of the 24, seven fought in World War II, nine in the Korean War and eight in the Vietnam War. Melvin Morris was commanding a strike force on a mission near Chi Lang, South Vietnam, when his special forces group came under attack and a fellow commander was killed near an enemy bunker. Despite massive enemy fire directed at him and his men, hitting him three times, Morris told The Associated Press he was able to get to his fallen comrade and recover the body. He also retrieved a map that included strategic information that would have been trouble if it fell into enemy hands.
Morris, 72, became one of the first soldiers to don a “green beret” in 1961 and volunteered twice for deployments to Vietnam during the war. After his Sept 17, 1969, ordeal, the then-staff sergeant received a Distinguished Service Cross in 1970. He said he never realized that being black might have kept the higher honor from him. “I never really did worry about decorations,” Morris said. Morris is one of only three of the recipients still living. The others are Spc. 4 Santiago J. Erevia and Sgt. 1st Class Jose Rodela, both of San Antonio.
Morris said that he’s happy to be honored but that it’s even more important to recognize his friends who never returned home. “Those that aren’t even here to receive their medals — those are my heroes,” said Morris, who retired from the Army in 1986 as a sergeant first class. “They gave their whole life. They gave everything. They gave it all.”
Terry Schwab said his father’s five children, their spouses and most of his 17 grandchildren will attend the ceremonies.
The other posthumous recipients
• Spc. 4 Leonard L. Alvarado, born in Bakersfield, Calif.
• Cpl. Joe R. Baldonado, born in Colorado.
• Pvt. Pedro Cano, born in La Morita, Mexico.
• Staff Sgt. Felix M. Conde-Falcon, born in Juncos, Puerto Rico.
• Spc. 4 Ardie R. Copas of Fort Pierce, Fla.
• Spc. 4 Jesus S. Duran of San Bernardino, Calif.
• Cpl. Victor H. Espinoza of El Paso, Texas.
• Pvt. Joe Gandara, born in Santa Monica, Calif.
• Sgt. Candelario Garcia, born in Corsicana, Texas.
• Sgt. Eduardo C. Gomez, born in Los Angeles.
• Pfc. Leonard M. Kravitz, born in New York.
• Pfc. Salvador J. Lara of Riverside, Calif.
• Sgt. William F. Leonard of Lockport, N.J.
• Staff Sgt. Manuel V. Mendoza, born in Miami, Ariz.
• Master Sgt. Juan E. Negron of Bayamon, Puerto Rico.
• Sgt. Alfred B. Nietzel, born in New York.
• Master Sgt. Mike C. Pena, born in Newgulf, Texas.
• Pvt. Demensio Rivera, born in Cabo Rojo, Puerto Rico.
• Pvt. Miguel A. Vera, born in Puerto Rico.
The Associated Press