By Justin Sink - 03/18/14 05:35 PM EDT
President Obama on Tuesday awarded the Medal of Honor to two dozen former U.S. soldiers who had been passed over for the nation's highest military honor because they were ethnic or religious minorities.
"Today, we have the chance to set the record straight," Obama said.
The group, which included black, Hispanic, and Jewish soldiers, was identified after Congress mandated a review of military records to account for possible prejudice. While it was the largest group of service members to receive the award since World War II, only three of the 24 veterans honored were still alive.
Vietnam veterans Jose Rodela, Melvin Morris and Santiago Erevia were each present at the event and received a lengthy standing ovation from the family members and friends of the other recipients.
The military reviewed thousands of war records and teamed up with veterans groups and museums as part of the evaluation.
"It was painstaking work made even harder because, sometimes, our service members felt as if they needed to change their last names to fit in," Obama said. "That tells a story about our past."
Obama said the courage and valor displayed by the soldiers "defies imagination."