December 11, 2019
Legislation Will Ensure WWI Minority Veterans Receive the Recognition They’re Owed
Today, U.S. Senator Chris Van Hollen (D-Md.) and Roy Blunt (R-Mo.) announced that key provisions of the World War I Valor Medals Review Act have been included in the House and Senate-negotiated National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA). The Senators’ provisions would require the Department of Defense to undertake a review of valor medals awarded to minority Veterans during WWI to determine whether any should receive the Medal of Honor. The language encourages the Department to conduct this review in consultation with the Valor Medals Review Task Force, a joint project of the Congressionally-established World War I Centennial Commission and the George S. Robb Centre for the Study of the Great War, which has conducted extensive research to identify WWI Veteran service records for this review.
Service members of all races, religions, and backgrounds fought in WWI, but the Medal of Honor was not awarded to minority Veterans until the 1990s. Congress has authorized more recent reviews for minority service members from World War II to the present, but the only review undertaken for WWI took place in 1919 – and no minority Veterans received the Medal of Honor as a result of that review. Righting this historical wrong is long overdue.
“Hundreds of thousands of minority Veterans served their country during World War I, and their efforts were essential to our victory. But for far too long, their sacrifice has not received the recognition it deserves,” said Senator Van Hollen. “William Butler, an African American Veteran from Salisbury, 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. This legislation is designed to ensure that cases like William Butler’s will get a fair review. I was proud to fight for the inclusion of these crucial provisions in the NDAA so that William Butler and countless others have the opportunity to be honored.”
“Minority WWI veterans who demonstrated the highest acts of bravery deserve to be recognized with the Medal of Honor,” said Senator Blunt. “While we can’t undo the discrimination these heroes faced in their lifetimes, we can do the right thing now by making sure they receive the honor they’re due. I appreciate the important efforts by the Valor Medals Review Task Force, with the support of Park University, to ensure veterans who were wrongly denied our nation’s highest military honor will finally be acknowledged for their heroic actions.”
Senators Van Hollen and Blunt originally introduced this legislation in April of this year. They have since repeatedly fought for its inclusion in the NDAA by introducing an amendment and sending a letter to the conference negotiators. The negotiated House and Senate NDAA Conference Agreement will now go to the House and Senate floors for a final vote, before proceeding to the President’s desk. Senators Tammy Duckworth (D-Ill.), Tim Scott (R-S.C.), and Richard Blumenthal (D-Conn.) are original cosponsors of the Senate bill, and Congressman French Hill (R-Ark.) has introduced the House companion legislation.
“This bipartisan effort reflects the finest traditions of the Senate and their deep commitment to serve those who serve us. We appreciate the leadership and support of Senators Van Hollen, Blunt and others to formalize this Valor Medals Review,” said Park University President Greg Gunderson, Ph.D. “Park University’s George S. Robb Centre for the Study of the Great War looks forward to working carefully and diligently over the next five years to review individual service records of these World War I heroes.”
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