WASHINGTON — Eight Vietnam-era Soldiers will be awarded the Medal of Honor at a Tuesday 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. President Barack Obama will also award Medals of Honor posthumously to seven Soldiers who served in World War II and nine who fought in Korea.
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. After review of their heroic, selfless actions, in most cases costing their lives, the Soldiers’ ACS awards have been upgraded to the Medal of Honor.
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 service members 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 in 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
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 found himself leading a company-sized reconnaissance team through a 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 other signs of an enemy base camp. Crouching low and slowly following the wire, the Soldiers came under intense fire that wounded and trapped two men in the open.
Garcia crawled to within 10 meters of a machine-gun bunker, leapt to his feet and charged, firing constantly. He 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 enemy fire from other machine guns, he sprinted 15 meters and killed its three defenders.
After rescuing 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.
Garcia 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, after review, his award had been upgraded to the Medal of Honor.
Sgt. 1st Class Conde-Falcon
On April 4, 1969 — the day Garcia received his DSC — Sgt. 1st Class Felix Conde-Falcon of Chicago was leading a platoon of Company D, 1st Battalion, 505th Infantry, 3rd Brigade, 82 Airborne Division, on an operation in Ap Tan Hoa, roughly 60 miles northwest of what was then Saigon.
While moving forward, the company discovered an enemy bunker complex, later identified as a battalion command post. After calling in tactical strikes on the heavily-secured fortifications, Conde-Falcon’s platoon was ordered to assault and clear the bunker.
Conde-Falcon charged one 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. He then ran to the next two bunkers, destroying them.
Rejoining his platoon, he advanced through the trees before coming under enemy fire. Selecting three Soldiers, he maneuvered his team toward the enemy’s flank. Armed with a machine gun, Conde-Falcon single-handedly assaulted the nearest fortification, killing the enemy inside. He returned to his team and took up an M16 assault rifle, then concentrated fire on the next bunker. Within 10 meters away, he was mortally wounded.
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. Conde-Falcon’s DSC was recently upgraded to the Medal of Honor which will be accepted by his son, Richard.
Sgt. Jesus Duran
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), then-Spc. 4 Jesus Duran’s reconnaissance platoon was moving into an enemy bunker complex when the lead Soldiers began taking concentrated ambush fire.
With his machine gun blazing, Duran rushed forward and assumed a defensive position near the command post. As enemy forces stormed it, bursting grenades raised a cloud of dust around him. Thwarting the chargers with 7.62mm rounds, Duran learned that two of his fellow troopers lay seriously wounded and helpless.
Duran assaulted the enemy positions, spitting out bursts of fire on the run. Mounting a log, he fired into the enemy’s foxholes, killing four. As others fled, Duran killed several more. He later received the DSC for his actions.
After leaving the Army, Duran became a corrections officer at a juvenile detention center in San Bernardino, Calif.
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 Leonard Alvarado
On Aug. 12, 1969, Spc. 4 Leonard Alvarado, a 22-year-old draftee from Bakersfield, Calif., was involved in a mission to relieve a trapped platoon in Phuoc Long Province near the Cambodia and South Vietnam border.
As he and Company D, 2nd Battalion, 12th Cavalry, 1st Cavalry Division, moved through dense jungle, Alvarado detected enemy movement and opened fire. Despite quick reaction, he and his small force were quickly pinned down by the enemy who blocked the path to the trapped platoon.
Alvarado moved forward through hostile machine-gun fire until an enemy grenade exploded nearby, wounding and momentarily stunning him. Retaliating, he took out the grenadier, just as another barrage of fire wounded him again. Refusing to give up, Alvarado crawled forward through heavy fire to pull several comrades to safety.
Realizing his 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 ground by exploding charges. Still he advanced, spraying fire, eventually causing the enemy troops to break contact and retreat.
When Alvarado’s comrades came to assist, they discovered he had succumbed to his wounds after saving several lives, 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, Alvarado’s DSC was upgraded to the Medal of Honor.
Lenora Alvarado will accept the Medal of Honor on behalf of her father. She was 10 months old when he was killed. Today, she is a member of Sons and Daughters of Vietnam Veterans.
Spc. 4 Ardie Ray 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 on May 12, 1970, when Company C, 1st Battalion, 5th Infantry Regiment, 25th Infantry Division, was attacked by a large force firing various weapons.
While returning fire, his vehicle was hit, slamming the 19-year-old to the ground and injuring four Soldiers. Ignoring his wounds, Copas remounted the burning vehicle and commenced heavy machine-gun fire.
Braving hostile enemy fire and the possible detonation of mortar rounds that had landed inside his vehicle’s track, Copas maintained suppressive fire as the wounded Soldiers were evacuated. He continued to deliver volleys until he was mortally wounded.
For his actions, which resulted in the safe evacuation of four Soldiers and prevented other injuries or deaths, 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, 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
See separate, full-length stories about these Soldiers at www.army.mil/news/humaninterest/:
- 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.
- 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.
- Then-Spc 4 Santiago Erevia, 2nd Brigade Combat Team, 101st Airborne Div. (Air Assault) is receiving the Medal of Honor as well.
- The U.S. Army will induct all Medal of Honor recipients into the Pentagon’s Hall of Heroes in a ceremony Tuesday.