Asst. News Editor
President Obama awarded two Riverside soldiers and 22 others the Medal of Honor March 18, after years of being overlooked due
The Army imposes a three-year limit to receive the Medal of Honor, but in 2002, an Army review was conducted under a directive from Congress’ National Defense Authorization Act to determine the eligibility for the award to minority soldiers who fought in WWII, Vietnam and the Korean War.
“This is long overdue,” Obama announced. “Some of these soldiers fought and died for a country that did not always see them as equal.”
After 12 years of reviewing 6,505 possible candidates, who had all received the Distinguished Service Cross, 600 Hispanic and Jewish recipients were evaluated. Of those soldiers 24 were found to have met the criteria required to receive the nation’s most esteemed award for valor. Of those 24 men, 10 died in service, 10 died since and one is still missing. Only three of the men were still alive to receive their medal.
Obama presented the families of the Riverside men with the awards at a ceremony that took place in the East Room of the White House.
Among the honored heroes were Riverside Sgt. Jesus Duran and then Pfc. Salvador Lara, who was a Staff Sgt. at the time of his death.
Duran was born in Juarez, Mexico, 1948 and moved to the Riverside area at age 11 with his parents and 11 siblings. He joined the Army in 1968 and fought in the Vietnam War; Company E, 2nd Battalion, 5th Cavalry, 1st Cavalry Division (Airmobile).
While acting as an M-60 machine-gunner, he shielded wounded soldiers while taking on heavy enemy fire April 10, 1969. His relentless return fire led to the enemy retreating. A Pentagon release stated that Duran was recognized for saving the lives of several American soldiers that day.
His daughter, Tina Duran-Ruvalcaba of Corona, accepted the award on behalf of her father and was very emotional as the citation was read.
Duran was stabbed to death at a Riverside bar in 1977.
Lara was born in Riverside and joined the military when he was about 20. He served in WWII with 2nd Platoon, Company L, 180th Infantry, 45th Infantry Division, where he was the leader of a rifle squad.
“He aggressively led his rifle squad in neutralizing multiple enemy strong points and inflicting large numbers of casualties on the enemy,” according to a Pentagon release, May 27 and 28, 1944, in Aprilia, Italy. “The next morning, as his company returned the attack, Lara sustained a severe leg wound, but did not stop to receive first aid until he captured his objective.”
The American Battle Monuments Commission stated that Lara died on Sept. 1, 1945 in a non-battle death. He never married or had children.
The hero’s brother, Alfonzo Lara of Highgrove accepted the honor on his brother’s behalf.
“This is the single largest group of service members to be awarded the Medal of Honor since the Second World War.” Obama said.
The families of the recipients attended a Hall of Heroes Induction Ceremony the following day at the Pentagon conducted by Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel.
“We are here this morning to celebrate the heroism of 24 selfless individuals,” Hagel said, noting that their acts of gallantry in battle merit the nation’s highest recognition. “We are also here to correct an injustice of history to help right 24 wrongs that should have never occurred.”
“Their courage almost defies imagination,” Obama said. “When you read the records of these individuals it’s unimaginable, the valor that they displayed: running into bullets, charging machine gun nests and climbing aboard tanks and taking them out, covering their comrades so they could make it to safety, holding back enemies wave after wave even when the combat was hand-to-hand, manning their posts, some to their very last breaths, so that their comrades might live.”