"They fought far beyond the call of duty": Minority WWI soldiers get a chance at Medal of Honor. The staff of the George S. Robb Centre at Park, set in motion by an Act of Congress, is conducting a review of valor medals for minority service members.
'Valor never expires': How a pair of Iowa researchers is honoring the heroic acts of diverse WWI soldiers
By Courtney Crowder
via the Des Moines Register newspaper (IA) web site
The soldiers’ stories play out in Josh Weston’s subconscious like old movies.
They come to him in quiet moments: when he’s falling asleep, or when he’s driving to work at the Valor Medals Review Project before the world has woken up, the only sound the snoring of his service dog, Moscow.
There’s Cpl. Isaac Valley, a Black man who was severely wounded when, instead of taking cover, he jumped on a grenade in a trench of soldiers, saving dozens. And Pvt. Sing Lau Kee, an Asian American who, despite steady mustard gas attacks that paralyzed his commanders, refused evacuation and single-handedly kept a message relay center running, and troops moving, for 24 hours straight.
And Mjr. Julius Adler, a Jewish American from the Ochs family, publishers of the New York Times, who, while corralling German POWs, came upon a party of 150 enemy soldiers. Running toward them with his pistol raised and screaming for their surrender, he captured 50 more.
These soldiers moved in separate orbits, coming home, carrying their service on their shoulders like an invisible boulder. They were connected by America’s first forgotten war, but living in bell jars, using the experience as either fuel for a full life or disappearing into themselves, the consequences of what they saw rattling around in their minds like balls in a bingo cage.
But a century later, their stories collide with two questions:
- Were the medals for their heroic acts of valor downgraded solely because of their race, ethnicity or religion, as was common in America’s 20th century military?
- Can Weston, 32, employ the weight of historical forensics to muster enough proof that these men deserve to be awarded the Medal of Honor?
For nearly three years, Weston and his colleagues, Ashlyn Weber and Timothy Westcott, of Early, Iowa, have researched the actions of more than 200 World War I soldiers — African Americans, Asian Americans, Hispanic Americans, Jewish Americans and Native Americans — who may have been discriminated against.
While the military has conducted reviews of valor for World War II and all subsequent conflicts, their work marks the first — and, with funding for such endeavors increasingly scarce, likely the last — review of World War I servicemembers.
“This is the one and only shot that these servicemembers will ever have to get the attention that they deserve,” says Weston, the project’s senior military adviser and a Davenport native.
Read the entire article on the Des Moines Register web site.
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