WWI minority veterans, once denied Medal of Honor, to be reconsidered in new bill

In an effort to right a historical wrong, two U.S. senators have announced new bipartisan legislation that will retroactively award the Medal of Honor to some WWI minority veterans who never received the recognition they deserved for their service.

Legislators are working across the aisle to enact what has been dubbed the World War I Valor Medals Review Act. Sens. Chris Van Hollen, D-Md., and Roy Blunt, R-Mo., drafted the legislation, and Sens. Tammy Duckworth, D-Ill., Tim Scott, R-S.C., and Richard Blumenthal, D-Conn., are co-sponsoring the Senate bill. The House companion legislation has been introduced by Arkansas Republican Rep. French Hill .

“Minority veterans who exhibited the highest acts of valor during WWI deserve to be recognized with the Medal of Honor,” said Blunt in a press release. “We cannot erase the discrimination minority service members faced, but we can make sure their heroic deeds are acknowledged and honored. I’m grateful for the work the Valor Medals Review Task Force, in partnership with Park University, is doing to make sure those who were denied the Medal of Honor because of their race or religion finally receive the recognition they have earned.”

The Medal of Honor is the highest award that can be bestowed upon a service member of the Armed Services of the United States, and it is awarded for incredible bravery in battle. There have only been 3,500 recipients across all branches of the U.S. Armed Services.

Up until the 1990s, minority veterans were denied the Medal of Honor, often times being awarded lesser medals for truly exemplary service, all because of their identity. Congress has performed prior reviews to reexamine the contributions of minority service members, but only from WWII and onward.

The World War I Valor Medals Review Act requires the Department of Defense along with the WWI Centennial Commission's Valor Medals Review Task Force to review all valor medals awarded to minority veterans during WWI to determine whether any of them should have received the Medal of Honor instead.

“Hundreds of thousands of minority veterans served their country during World War I, and their sacrifice was essential to our victory. But for far too long, their heroism has not received the recognition it deserves,” said Senator Van Hollen. “Take William Butler, an African American Veteran from Salisbury, for example. His valor was recognized with the Croix de Guerre with Palm, the Distinguished Service Cross, and a recommendation for the Medal of Honor – but he never received that medal before his death. His story is the exact kind of case the Valor Medal Task Force should review. This legislation will ensure he and countless others have the opportunity to be honored.”

The bill specifies that any war veteran of African American, Asian American, Hispanic American, Jewish American, or Native American descent are eligible for reconsideration if they were awarded the Distinguished Service Cross or Navy Cross, were recommended for the Medal of Honor, or were awarded the Croix de Guerre with Palm by the Government of France for action in service that occurred between April 6, 1917, and Nov. 11, 1918.

After reviewing such candidates, any deemed to have merited the Medal of Honor will be recommended by secretaries of the Army and Navy to the president