Obama Awards Medal of Honor to Korean War Soldiers

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)

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