On Tuesday, all three broadcast network evening newscasts devoted full reports to President Obama honoring 24 members of the military – only three still living – with the Medal of Honor. CBS Evening News anchor Scott Pelley trumpeted how the President "righted a historic wrong. He presented the nation's highest military award to 24 Americans, after a review determined that they had been passed over because they were Hispanic or African-American or Jewish." [MP3 audio available here; video below]
However, during the fifth year of former President George W. Bush's presidency, the Big Three channels furiously covered the allegations against several U.S. Marines, who were accused of killing civilians in Iraq in November 2005. Between May 17 and June 7, 2006 – a three week period – ABC, CBS, and NBC devoted three and a half hours of air time to the accusations of misconduct. These same networks aired only 52 minutes of reporting on 20 military heroes from the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq during a five-year period between September 2001 and June 2006.
Pelley teased correspondent David Martin's report by underlining how "twenty-four men were denied the Medal of Honor because of prejudice. Today, justice was done." Martin detailed the heroics of two out of three living veterans:
DAVID MARTIN (voice-over): At 68, Santiago Erevia is well past the age when he should be trying on an army uniform....Erevia is one of 24 Americans who today received the Medal of Honor. Erevia, Jose Rodela, and Melvin Morris are the only ones still living – and they all served in Vietnam....
In May 1969, Erevia took out not one, but four enemy bunkers that were raking his unit with fire....His company commander immediately put Erevia in for the Medal of Honor. But instead, he was awarded the nation's second highest medal, the Distinguished Service Cross....A review of Army records found 24 soldiers who deserved to have their Distinguished Service Cross upgraded to the Medal of Honor.
Jose Rodela was a sergeant with the Green Berets in September 1969, when a Viet Cong machine gun opened up on his unit....When their machine gun jammed, they fired on Rodela with their rifles.
JOSE RODELA: Finally, I got up close to them, and I got all three of them.
MARTIN (on-camera): So, you took out the machine gun?
RODELA: Oh, yes, I did.
On ABC's World News, host Diane Sawyer pointed out the "recognition of courage and sacrifice long overdue. At the White House today, President Obama awarded the Medal of Honor to 24 veterans – heroes who served in Korea, Vietnam, and World War II. And most of them were overlooked for decades because of their race or heritage." During his report, correspondent Jonathan Karl interviewed the third living veteran who received the Medal of Honor on Tuesday:
JONATHAN KARL (voice-over): He volunteered twice to go to Vietnam, and there, performed above and beyond the call of duty. Nearly half a century later, Melvin Morris received a long-overdue phone call....Today, Sergeant First Class Morris was one of 24 soldiers, who were denied the nation's highest military honor – most because of discrimination. Only three are still alive.
One of the first to wear the Army's Green Beret, Morris charged into enemy fire repeatedly – armed with as many grenades as he could carry....
KARL (on-camera): What gives you the ability to do that – to run in the direction of enemy fire?
MELVIN MORRIS, SGT. FIRST CLASS, U.S. ARMY (RET): We don't join the military to back out when it gets tough. We got to do what we've got to do.
KARL (voice-over): As for the long delay, he harbors not a hint of bitterness.
KARL (on-camera): Twenty-four individuals, who should have received this medal years and years ago, now receiving it.
MORRIS: It's better late than never.
Anchor Brian Williams introduced correspondent Jim Miklaszewski's report on NBC Nightly News by documenting how "the President, on behalf of a grateful nation, presided over the largest single group of recipients of the Medal of Honor since World War II....In many cases, they were denied the nation's highest military award because of their race or religion. And of the twenty-four, from three separate wars, only three men survive, and they stood together today. Sons and daughters accepted for the deceased heroes, and for many, the ceremony was overpowering. Several were comforted by the President."
Miklaszewski also zeroed in on Sergeant Morris, but also mentioned Rodela, who was also a member of the Green Berets:
MIKLASZEWSKI: The President presented the nation's highest military honor to the families of those who dedicated their lives to their country.
As one of the original Army Green Berets, Staff Sergeant Melvin Morris volunteered twice for Vietnam. A battle in 1969 was almost his last.
MELVIN MORRIS: And I went in – I threw hand grenades everywhere.
MIKLASZEWSKI: Under relentless enemy fire, Morris was gravely wounded – shot three times while retrieving the body of his team sergeant. That same year, specialist Santiago Etevia was pinned down by enemy fire – the soldier next to him shot dead.
Surprisingly, Morris doesn't believe he was the target of discrimination on or off the battlefield.
MORRIS: It didn't matter. We – we – we all bled the same blood.