WASHINGTON, May 2, 2011 — President Barack Obama presented the Medal of Honor posthumously today to the families of two soldiers who served in the Korean War.
Obama honored Army Pfcs. Anthony T. Kaho’ohanohano and Henry Svehla, who were killed in action.
“These two soldiers made the ultimate sacrifice when they were just 19 and 21 years old,” the president said. “In the hearts of their families, they remain forever young. Today, we honor them with the highest military decoration that our nation can bestow: the Medal of Honor. In so doing, we also honor their families, who remind us that it is our extraordinary military families who also bear the heavy burden of war.”
Kaho’ohanohano was honored for his actions Sept. 1, 1951, while in charge of a machine-gun squad with Company H, 17th Infantry Regiment, 7th Infantry Division. When faced by an enemy of overwhelming numbers, Kaho’ohanohano ordered his squad to take up more defensible positions and provide covering fire for the withdrawing friendly force. Even though he was injured in his shoulder, he gathered a supply of grenades and ammunition and returned to his original position to face the enemy alone — delivering deadly accurate fire into the ranks of the onrushing enemy.
When his ammunition was depleted, Kaho’ohanohano engaged the enemy in hand-to-hand combat until he was killed. His comrades then launched a counterattack that completely drove back the enemy.
Kaho’ohanohano’s brother, Eugene, accepted the Medal of Honor on his brother’s behalf. A sister, Elaine, also attended. “For the sacrifice that your family endured, for the service that your family has rendered — thank you so much,” Obama said. “Mahalo nui loa,” he added, Hawaiian for “thank you.” The citation for Svehla’s medal described his actions June 12, 1952, while the New Jersey native was serving in Korea as a rifleman with Company F, 32d Infantry Regiment, 7th Infantry Division.
Coming under heavy fire and with his platoon’s attack beginning to falter, Svehla leapt to his feet and charged the enemy positions, firing his weapon and throwing grenades as he advanced. Disregarding his own safety, he destroyed enemy positions and inflicted heavy casualties. When an enemy grenade landed among a group of his comrades, he threw himself on the grenade and was mortally wounded.
“Henry Svehla’s body has never been recovered,” Obama said. “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.” Svehla’s sister, Dorothy Mathews, accompanied by her sister, Sylvia Svehla, accepted the medal.
“Behind every American who wears a uniform,” Obama said, “stands a family that serves with them. Behind every American who lays down his life for our country is a family that mourns them, and honors them for the rest of their lives.”
Before the ceremony, Obama said the death of Osama bin Laden yesterday showed that the nation kept its commitment so that justice was done. “As a nation, there’s nothing we can’t do when we put our shoulders to the wheel, when we work together, when we remember the sense of unity that defines us as Americans,” he said. Dignitaries at the ceremony included Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates, Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Navy Adm. Mike Mullen and vice chairman Marine Corps Gen. James E. Cartwright, and Veterans Affairs Secretary Eric K. Shinseki.
“I could not be prouder of our men and women in uniform,” the president said. “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.”
U.S. Department of Defense
Office of the Assistant Secretary of Defense (Public Affairs)