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Editorial: U.S. finally does the right thing by its heroes

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“Today, we have the chance to set the record straight. No nation is perfect, but here in America we confront our imperfections and face a sometimes painful past, including the truth that some of these soldiers fought and died for a country that did not always see them as equal.”

– President Barack Obama

In a minority-majority state with four military bases and the double-edged distinction of more Medal of Honor recipients per capita than any other and the highest per-capita casualty rates in WWII, there is special meaning in the U.S. government combing military rolls to ensure eligible recipients of the country’s highest recognition for valor weren’t skipped because of prejudice.

After all, they were fighting for the best of what America stands for.

It is disheartening the search found 24, and of those heroes only three are still alive. But honoring all of these soldiers who showed extraordinary courage under fire is a duty that must be fulfilled.

This week the president honored these soldiers – Hispanics, Jews and African-Americans – and draped the Medal of Honor on the three still with us.

In a modesty typical of true military heroes, Vietnam veteran Jose Rodela, who was wounded in an 18-hour battle and repeatedly exposed himself to enemy fire to aid members of his company, says “we trained for this and I would have done it again.” Vietnam vet Melvin Morris, who was shot three times as he ran with American casualties, states he “never really did worry about decorations.” And Vietnam vet Santiago Erevia, who single-handedly silenced four Viet Cong bunkers, says, “I’m only thankful I’m getting it while I’m alive.”

It is shocking that in the freest country in the world, men who have risked and often lost their lives for that very freedom have been ignored because of the color of their skin or their religion.

And it speaks to those freedoms that they are finally getting their due.

This editorial first appeared in the Albuquerque Journal. It was written by members of the editorial board and is unsigned as it represents the opinion of the newspaper rather than the writers.

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