By JACQUELINE HAMES
President Barack Obama will award the Medal of Honor posthumously to several World War II veterans during a March 18 ceremony at the White House. Awards will also be given to veterans from the Vietnam and Korean Wars.
The award is an upgrade from the Distinguished Service Cross or DSC that many veterans received for intrepid actions, personal bravery and devotion to duty during actions against enemy forces in World War II.
Staff Sgt. Salvador Lara
The Allied campaign in Italy ground to a halt when the Germans stopped the Allied advance at Cassino, early in 1944. After a four-month stalemate, the Allies launched a breakout offensive in May at Anzio, a fight where Staff Sgt. Salvador Lara’s heroic actions would earn him the Distinguished Service Cross. The Anzio Campaign was designed to cut off enemy communications and threaten a German defensive position, known as the Gustav Line, and then advance on Rome.
Lara, serving with Company L, 180th Infantry was awarded the DSC posthumously for extraordinary heroism in connection with military operations against an armed enemy near Aprilia, Itlay, May 27-28, 1944, according to the citation, as part of the Anzio Campaign. He led his rifle squad to inflict large numbers of casualties on the enemy, allowing his unit to flank their objective. The next morning, Lara sustained a severe leg wound but did not stop for first aid. He crawled alone under heavy fire to the nearest machine-gun, manned by three Germans, and neutralized the enemy.
Pvt. Joe Gandara
Allied forces were also preparing for D-Day in May—an attack that had been postponed until June due to bad weather and tactical obstacles. Operation Overlord was launched June 6, 1944, with multiple landings on the beaches of Normandy, France, as part of a concentrated assault on occupied Europe.
Pvt. Joe Gandara, Company D, 2nd Battalion, 507th Parachute Infantry Regiment, 82nd Airborne Division, and his detachment came under heavy fire from German forces, June 9, in Amfreville, France. The Soldiers were pinned down for hours when Gandara advanced voluntarily and alone toward the enemy. He destroyed three hostile machine gun positions while moving forward before being fatally wounded in the fight. Gandara was awarded the Distinguish Service Cross for his “personal bravery and zealous devotion to duty,” per the DSC citation.
Sgt. Alfred Nietzel
Though Operation Overlord signaled the beginning of the end for the Germans, many fierce battles would still be fought throughout Europe. Sgt. Alfred Nietzel, Company H, 2nd Battalion, 16th Infantry Regiment, 1st Infantry Division, was killed in action during fighting with enemy forces, Nov. 18, 1944. Nietzel laid down suppressive fire with his machine-gun on an enemy advance threatening to overrun his position until all his ammunition was expended. He picked up his rifle and continued firing until an enemy grenade killed him. His actions delayed the advance of the opposing force long enough for reinforcement to arrive and stop the enemy, according to the citation.
Pvt. Pedro Cano
Pvt. Pedro Cano fought at the months-long Battle of Hürtgen Forest. Cano, assigned to Company C, 8th Regiment, 4th Infantry Division, was with his company near Schevenhutte, Germany in December 1944, when they came under fire from German machine guns, according to the 2009 article “Saving Pedro Cano” by Aaron Peña from A Capitol Blog. Cano advanced alone through heavily mined terrain until he was close to the German encampment. He destroyed one position with a round from a hand-held rocket launcher and then attacked a second and third emplacement. The next day, Cano suppressed three more machine gun positions with his bazooka. Cano received the DSC for his heroic actions.
Later, while on patrol, Cano and his platoon were ambushed. Cano lured the enemy in and threw a grenade into their midst, wounding or killing all of them, the Peña article continued. It was during this ambush Cano sustained injuries that permanently disabled him. He was killed in a car accident in 1952.
Master Sgt. Manuel Mendoza
September of 1944 also saw the IV Corps drive through to the Arno River in Italy and overtake the German stronghold of Volterra. The 88th Infantry Division, attached to IV Corps was preparing for the push to Bologna, according to the Lone Sentry article “Volterra to the Arno.” Fighting began Sept. 18, and had become a hill-to-hill slog by the 21st of the month. Then came Mt. Battaglia—an important military objective for both Allied and German forces.
During fierce fighting on Oct. 4, 1944, at Mt. Battaglia, then-Staff Sgt. Manuel Mendoza single-handedly stopped a German counterattack. He “knelt on the crest of the hill, fired a machine gun from the hip and cut down 30 (enemy soldiers) out of a charging group of about 200,” later receiving the DSC for his actions, the article stated.
1st Lt. Donald Schwab
First Lt. Donald Schwab, Company E, 15th Infantry Regiment, 3rd Infantry Division received a Distinguished Service Cross for his actions against armed German forces in France, Sept. 17, 1944. Schwab led his company over 400 yards of coverless ground against a line of machine-guns and machine-pistols. More fire erupted from the woods directly in front of him, but Schwab extricated his men from the ambush and led them to protected positions, according to the citation.
Schwab was ordered to overwhelm the enemy line and led his men forward into lethal enemy fire, but was halted. Schwab went man-to-man to supervise the collection of the wounded and the withdrawal of his company to their former position, where he rallied the men for a third charge. While weapons fire raged around him, Schwab rushed forward alone, firing at the German foxholes, running straight for a key pistol nest. He captured the German gunner, so disorganizing enemy lines that they withdrew, abandoning his defensive line.
Schwab served with the Army until October 1945. He passed
away in 2005 as a decorated war hero, having also received three Purple Hearts and a Bronze Star.
Sgt. William Leonard
Then-Pfc. William Leonard also received the Distinguished Service Cross for heroism in connection with military operations in St. Die, France against an armed enemy while serving with Company C, 30th Infantry, 3rd infantry Division, Nov. 7, 1944.
Leonard’s platoon, ravaged by artillery, mortar, machine-gun and rifle fire was reduced to eight men, according to the citation. He led the survivors in an assault, killing two snipers at 50 and 75 yards. Leonard destroy-ed a machine gun despite being shot in the back, killing its two-man crew. Even though an exploding bazooka shell stunned him, Leonard continued to advance, knocking out a second machine gun and capturing a roadblock.
Leonard left the Army as a sergeant and passed away five days before his 72nd birthday.
The U.S. Army will induct the Medal of Honor recipients into the Pentagon’s Hall of Heroes in a March 19 ceremony.