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Home : News : News
NEWS | March 27, 2014

Two San Antonio residents make history at Medal of Honor ceremony

By Sgt. 1st Class Christopher DeHart Army North Public Affairs

Two San Antonio residents were presented the nation's highest military honor during a Medal of Honor ceremony at the White House March 18.

Retired Master Sgt. Jose Rodela and former Sgt. Santiago Erevia were personally recognized for their achievements and sacrifices by President Barack Obama along with 22 others who were selected as part of the Valor 24.

Valor 24 stemmed from a review of valorous actions of service members from World War II through Vietnam who were of Hispanic, African-American or Jewish descent. For whatever reason -- racism, religious bigotry, or just poor record keeping -- they were denied the honor due to them until a review ordered by Congress in 2002 discovered the oversight, according to an article published by the NCO Journal.

"We are here this morning to celebrate the heroism of 24 selfless individuals - 24 Soldiers whose acts of gallantry in battle merit our highest recognition," said Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel at a ceremony the following day in the Pentagon.

Rodela received the honor for his heroic actions in 1969 while serving in Vietnam as a sergeant first class. He was assigned to 5th Special Forces Group (Airborne) as an advisor, trainer and commander for a company of Cambodian troops.

When his company came under an intense barrage of enemy mortar, rocket, and machine gun fire, Rodela ignored it and immediately began placing his men into defensive positions to prevent an assault which might overrun the entire battalion.

Rodela repeatedly exposed himself to enemy fire, moving from position to position, suppressing fire and assisting wounded men, when he was wounded in the back and head by rocket shrapnel while recovering a wounded comrade.

Alone, Rodela assaulted and knocked out the rocket position. After successfully returning to the battalion's perimeter, he continued to command his company, despite painful wounds, throughout 18 hours of continuous contact with enemy fire, until he was evacuated.

When asked about how it felt to finally receive such an honor for actions that took place more than four decades ago, Rodela was very straightforward.

"This (medal) is for the people who are not here - that's the way I look at it," Rodela said. "I receive it to remember them for the rest of my life."

In particular, Rodela said it was for his friends Staff Sgt. Rudy Chavez and Sgt. 1st Class Joe Haga, the ones who originally inspired him to join Special Forces and earn the Green Beret. Chavez and Haga were both killed in action during their tours.

Erevia received the nation's highest military honor for his heroic actions in 1969 while serving in Vietnam as a specialist in the infantry.

While serving with 1st Battalion, 501st Infantry Regiment, 101st Airborne Division (Airmobile), during a search and clear mission near Tam Ky City in the Republic of Vietnam after his platoon had penetrated an enemy defensive perimeter, Erevia was delegated to remain behind and care for the wounded while the rest of the platoon pushed on against the adversary.

As Erevia began administering first aid to the battle casualties, his position came under heavy fire from a line of enemy bunkers to his left front.

Without hesitation, Erevia crawled from one wounded man to another gathering weapons and ammunition. Now armed with two M16 rifles and several hand grenades, he then rose to his feet and charged directly into the fire of the hostile gun emplacement, discharging suppressive fire on the enemy as he ran.

Once he neared the first bunker, Erevia edged his way up to the emplacement under intense fire from the other bunkers and unleashed a grenade on its defender.

He then maneuvered to the second and third bunkers employing the same tactics and destroyed both fortifications and their occupants with well-placed grenades.

With his supply of hand grenades now exhausted, Erevia fought his way to the final bunker, running and firing both rifles simultaneously, and killed the fortification's defender with point-blank fire.

Having single-handedly destroyed four enemy bunkers and their occupants, Erevia then returned to the Soldiers charged to his care and resumed treating their injuries.

Erevia had originally planned to conduct the assault with Spc. Patrick Diehl, but Diehl was killed by enemy fire as they prepared to attack.

"Diehl ... 45 years later, I still remember him plainly," Erevia said in an interview with the NCO Journal. He too had friends - brothers really - who were lost that day but would never be forgotten.

"Prior to that day, we had skirmishes where we were fighting together. He was a brave man. He got the Silver Star, but I think he should have gotten something better."

"They say dead people probably don't get as much recognition as the live ones," he said.
"But there were a lot of brave people out there. To those guys, I would say this medal is for you."

Both men had previously received the Distinguished Service Cross for their actions.

However, after a thorough review, President Barack Obama decided their actions merited an upgrade to the Medal of Honor. Retired Sgt. 1st Class Melvin Morris was the only other living Soldier to receive the upgrade and was also honored at the ceremony. Following the ceremony, Rodela and Erevia visited the Vietnam Memorial Wall. It was the first visit for both and, with medals hanging heavily around their necks, they looked at the names of their friends - Haga, Chavez, Diehl and many others - and thanked them one last time.