Corsicana Daily Sun, Corsicana, Texas

March 16, 2014

Medal of Honor: Garcia to be honored Tuesday for bravery under fire

By Janet Jacobs
Corsicana Daily Sun

Corsicana — The son of a World War II soldier is finally being honored for his own service to country in Vietnam with the nation’s highest honor.

Candelario “Spider” Garcia Jr., of Corsicana, a hero of Vietnam, passed away in 2013. Because of his heroic actions of Dec. 8, 1968, near the South Vietnam village of Lai Khe, Garcia will be posthumously awarded the Medal of Honor.

On Tuesday, a ceremony that took more than 70 years to arrive will take place at 1 p.m. Tuesday at the White House, when 24 separate warriors will be awarded the Medal of Honor by President Barack Obama.

Three of the recipients are still alive and expected to attend.

Garcia’s widow, Blanca Ortiz, will accept it on behalf of the Garcia family. Ortiz did not want to be interviewed for this story.

Candelario Garcia Sr., was killed in action in France during World War II. Candelario Garcia Jr. told his family very little about his time in the military, as he never talked about it upon his return to the States. He had a Distinguished Service Cross, a Silver Star, and multiple Purple Hearts, which are earned by being wounded in the call of duty.

“Garcia distinguished himself by exceptionally valorous actions, Dec. 8, 1968, as a team leader during a company-size reconnaissance-in-force mission west of Lai Khe,” according to a statement from the U.S. Army. “Garcia’s platoon discovered communication wire, and other signs of an enemy base camp, leading into a densely vegetated area. As they advanced they came under intense fire, causing several men to be wounded and trapped in the open. Ignoring a hail of hostile bullets, Garcia crawled to within 10 meters of a machine-gun bunker, leaped to his feet and ran directly at the fortification, firing his rifle as he charged. He jammed two hand grenades into the gun port and then placed the muzzle of his weapon inside, killing all four occupants. Continuing to expose himself to intense enemy fire, Garcia raced 15 meters to another bunker and killed its three defenders with hand grenades and rifle fire. After again braving the Communists’ barrage to rescue two casualties, he joined his company in an assault, which overran the remaining enemy positions.”

The road to Tuesday’s White House ceremony actually began in 2002, when as part of the defense budget bill congress ordered that the military search its records for anyone of Hispanic or Jewish heritage who might have been overlooked for the nation’s highest honor because of past prejudice. The military started with anyone who had received the Distinguished Service Cross, the next highest award in the country. There were 600 recipients who were researched, and it took a decade to go through all the records.

In the end, they found 18 Hispanic or Jewish servicemen who should have been given the higher honor, but they also found five white, non-Jewish men and one black man who had also been overlooked. Congress gave authorization to include them as well last year, bringing the total at this ceremony to 24.

Typically, a Medal of Honor ceremony is for one person, this is the first multiple event, at least in recent history, and it means some changes in the way it will be done. Instead of the entire family being able to attend, the White House event will be limited to just one or two representatives for each family, and instead of the citation being read and the president speaking about each person, it’s expected to be more of a group presentation, according to an Army congressional liaison.

The ceremony will be broadcast on CNN and other news outlets, and should take about an hour. It’s designed to show the country’s appreciation for their valor and sacrifices.

On Wednesday there will be a private ceremony at the Pentagon, to show the military’s appreciation, and that event will have more family members there. About 250 family members will be attending that event. The Pentagon ceremony usually has family members or the recipients themselves speaking, but with such a large class of recipients it’s unclear who will speak then.

The Pentagon ceremony will be professionally taped, but will not be broadcast to the media. Each family will receive one DVD of the ceremony about three months later.

Even though it’s a larger group, the Medal of Honor traditions and honors will be respected. Only 3,600 Medals of Honor have ever been given out, and half of those were from the Civil War.

Others in the Class of 2014 are veterans from Vietnam, Korea and World War II.

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Janet Jacobs may be reached via email at jjacobs@corsicanadailysun.com. Want to “soundoff” to this article? Email: soundoff@corsicanadailysun.com