A Veteran’s Day Remembrance: Immigrant Medal of Honor Recipients


As Veteran’s Day approaches, the time hascome to pay tribute to those who have given their lives to thiscountry, though they were not born in this country. Immigrantshave received the Medal of Honor in every war since the medal wasfirst established. To receive it, a recipient must risk his life,the bravery of his act must be considered beyond the call of dutyand distinguished from other acts, and at least two eyewitnessesmust have observed the act and provide incontestable evidence thatit occurred.

More than 20 percent (over700) of the Congressional Medal of Honor recipients in U.S. warshave been immigrants. As the official guide to recipientsnotes, “Those who have received the Medal of Honor since itwas established in 1861 as the nation’s highest decoration are asdifferent as the melting pot population of our country.”

Vietnam: At the age of 29,Laszlo Rabel was the leader of Team Delta, 74th InfantryDetachment. Rabel, a staff sergeant, had immigrated to the UnitedStates from Budapest, Hungary, and entered the service inMinnesota. He was leading his men in reconnaissance when enemymovement was detected. His team started to leave the area whensuddenly a grenade landed in the middle of the team. Withouthesitation, Rabel threw himself on the grenade, coveringit with his body and absorbing the explosion. He lost his lifebut saved those whom he had led on the field of battle.

Korea: Lieutenant JohnKoelsch, a London‐​born immigrant, flew a helicopter as part of aNavy helicopter rescue unit during the Korean War. He had enteredthe service in Los Angeles but on the evening of July 3, 1951, hefound himself on the Korean peninsula with darkness fastapproaching. Word came that the North Koreans had shot down aU.S. marine aviator and that the man was trapped deep in hostileterritory amid mountainous terrain. John Koelsch volunteered torescue him.

As he descended beneath theclouds to search for the aviator the enemy fired on him. Afterbeing hit, Koelsch kept going until he found the downed pilot,who had suffered serious burns. A burst of enemy fire struck thehelicopter causing it to crash into the side of the mountain.Koelsch quickly helped his crew and the downed pilot out of thewreckage. He led the men out of the area, barely escaping theenemy troops. For nine days they were on the run until the NorthKoreans finally captured them. During questioning, John Koelschrefused to reveal information. He died at the hands of hisinterrogators.

World War II: MarcarioGarcia, born in Mexico, was 24 years old when near Grosshau,Germany, he found his company pinned down by the heavy machinegun fire of Nazi troops and by an artillery and mortar barrage.Though wounded and in pain, he refused to be evacuated. Instead,he crawled forward, all alone, and lobbed hand grenades into theenemy’s emplacement. He singlehandedly assaulted the position anddestroyed the gun.

A short time later when anotherGerman machine gun started firing, back toward the Germanposition he went. Alone, he again stormed the enemy, destroyedthe gun, killed three German soldiers and captured fourprisoners, helping to save his company.

World War I: In France,September 1918, U.S. Army Private Michael Valente found hiscompany facing withering enemy machine gun fire. Nonetheless,Valente and another volunteer rushed forward into the enemy nest,where they killed two, captured five, and silenced the gun.

Valente saw another enemy nestclose by that was pouring “deadly fire” on Americansoldiers. He and his fellow soldier assaulted that position aswell, silencing that gun, too. They then jumped into a trench,killed two German soldiers and captured 16 others. Despite whatthe citation calls “conspicuous gallantry andintrepidity” and “utter disregard of his own personaldanger,” Valente was not killed.

Michael Valente, born in Cassino,Italy, saved the lives of many American soldiers that day. Threeyears later, Congress passed the first national origins quotasunder the theory that Italians and other southern Europeans weregenetically inferior to native‐​born Americans and, therefore,should be kept out of the country.

Today some may still be concernedthat immigrants do not share a commitment to defending America.These new concerns are as misplaced as the old. For as has alwaysbeen the case, the evidence is that immigrants are as willing asnatives to support the nation’s defense needs and, if necessary,to give their lives for their country.

Stuart Anderson

Stuart Anderson is director of trade and immigration studies at the Cato Institute.