HONORING THE MEDAL OF HONOR

Last Tuesday, Lenny Kravitz received a posthumous Medal of Honor for conspicuous gallantry. Not the rocker/actor but his uncle for whom he was named. The elder Lenny Kravitz, who fought in Korea, proved an exemplar of courage. Decades after his death in combat, he also demonstrated what can go wrong in America—and right.

According to a National Public Radio report, Private First Class Kravitz manned a machine gun to cover his unit as it withdrew from a Chinese attack. He knew that he himself would not be able to retreat. He held off the Chinese assault long enough to enable members of his unit to escape and regroup—at the cost of his life. He posthumously received the Army’s second highest medal, the Distinguished Service Cross.

All this sounds like a sad yet ennobling battlefield tale. And the DSC certainly recognized PFC Kravitz’ heroism. But a friend of Kravitz, Michael Libman, now 83 and also an Army veteran, suspected something was wrong. “It took me a while to realize what was happening or what I thought was happening,” Libman told Audie Cornish on NPR’s All Things Considered. “And I had to find out, you know, just what to do about it to find out if I was right or wrong.”

What Libman found out was that a substantial number of men who received the Distinguished Service Cross had met the same criteria as those awarded the Medal of Honor. Except, that is, for one thing.

It appears that senior commanders hesitated to recommend Jews and other minorities for the Medal of Honor, although two-dozen Jews had been awarded the medal since its inception during the Civil War. Libman worked for decades to uncover the truth. Of 6,505 recipients of the Distinguished Service Cross, six hundred soldiers eligible for the Medal of Honor were Jewish or Hispanic.

Prejudice is not new in the United States. It will never completely disappear. But this nation has made great strides in reducing or eliminating prejudice. We’ve also made great strides in many other areas. No, the nation’s not perfect. It never will be unless human nature undergoes some profound—and unlikely—changes.

But a nation can be judged by its progress and how it continually raises the bar for freedom and decency. When President Obama presented the Medal of Honor to three living survivors—two Latinos and an African American—he demonstrated that we as a nation should and can adhere to the principles we say we cherish.

A follow-up: Michael Libman said of Lenny Kravitz, “I never thought Lenny was that type of fellow. He was a very, very mild guy and a very happy guy, and not very aggressive. But they found out he could be if he had to.” The same was true of my friend (First Lieutenant) Howie Schnabolk, who flew a medevac helicopter in Vietnam. While taking wounded soldiers off the battlefield on August 3, 1967, Howie was shot down and killed.

Our greatest heroes often demonstrate that courage comes from quiet determination, not bluster. That, too, is a good lesson for all of us to study going forward.

Responding is simple. Click on “comments” above then go to the bottom of the article.

Read the first three chapters of The Boy Walker, at davidperlstein.com. Order in soft cover or e-book at Amazon.com, Barnesandnoble.com or iUniverse.com. Check out Green Apple Books and Books, Inc. in Laurel Village. 

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7 Comments


  1. Tracy
    Mar 22, 2014

    While PFC Kravitz’ battlefield actions seem to me to be deserving of the Medal of Honor, the numbers you cite don’t seem, on their face, to indicate any prejudice against Jews or Hispanics. That is, we’d need to know if Jews and/or Hispanics comprise more than 10% of the military over the period in question — that is, since the MOH has been awarded. Plainer said: 10% seems to me to be about right for Hispanic and Jewish participation in the armed forces since the Civil War, and if so 600/6500 MOH honorees seems to jibe. Then again, I could be wrong. It has happened.


    • David
      Mar 22, 2014

      You raise a valid question, Tracy. However, the numbers I cite aren’t mine, and I’m not making a case but commenting on it. We’d have to examine all of the DSC awards to determine which were worthy of the Medal of Honor. I don’t have that information. Is it possible, even likely, that Jews, Latinos and African Americans were not put forward for the Medal of Honor when they should or might have been. I’d say yes. Critical to my comments is that these cases were reviewed and the medals awarded. A political gesture only? I can’t say. Anyone who believes that these 24 awards were wrongly made should step forward because this, too, would dishonor the Medal of Honor and the people who’ve earned it.


  2. Carolyn Perlstein
    Mar 28, 2014

    So glad this case was brought to light and the act of sacrifice was honored.


  3. Richard C Silvestri
    Jul 09, 2017

    I knew Howard Schnabolk when he and I were between ages 12-13. Howard was mild-mannered, but determined, I now recall. He was on the safety patrol and stood guard at a cross walk one day when I tried to disobey his order. He told me he would report me to the principal who was also our teacher. He knew how to get my attention; I didn’t want that and so I did what he said. So I can just picture him flying those helicopters. He was likely low-key but always in control. Rest in peace, Howard, my American Hero and once-upon-a-time friend.


    • David
      Jul 10, 2017

      Richard: Thanks for the comment. I knew Howie from Alfred University. We were fraternity brothers. He was a year ahead. Howie was mild-mannered there as well but always responsible for so many things. A guy you could fully trust. His courage was the quiet kind and very real. We were going to room together when I was stationed at Fort Sam Houston and he was coming back there to finish his obligation. As I recall, he was due home the next month. I could be wrong, but his coming home was close. Howie really was a real hero: no flash, a;; substance. We need more of that in our daily lives.


  4. Richard C Silvestri
    Jul 10, 2017

    David, In reply to yours: Such irony. I eturned to NJ at age 15 and spent over five more years there, including two at college, but I never looked up Howard. I am so sorry I didn’t. Now I know he was a true American Hero. I dropped out of college in 1963 and enlisted in the Warrent Officer Flight Training Program which required a HS Diploma only. My intent was to be a helicopter pilot and I was certain Viet Nam would be my destination. I waited almost a year to be called to enlist since I was told by the recruiting sargeant no flight schools were scheduled from the time I qualified until I received notice. History confirms this because Pres. Kennedy wanted to get out of Viet Nam but right after I finished all my tests and interview and was accepted he was assasinated. The Viet Nam advisory action became an actual war in August 1964. My enlistment date was to have been August 10th. About two weeks before, I changed my mind and found a good job in Miami and went back to college, part time, ultimately graduating five years later. I spent 26 years as a firefighter and paramedic in Miami and in Sunrise, FL. Thirty or so years passed and about 20 years ago I ran into Howard’s cousin. At first I didn’t know who he was. When I learned his last name was Schnabolk I asked if was related and he told me about Howard’s death. I was shocked. But I received no details. The other day I caught a story about a Marine who had been presumed KIA but who was an MIA and returned home five years later. I followed the story and searched it on the net. Then I thought about Howard and decided to see what I could learn from my search engine. It wasn’t hard to do; Howard is a hero. I spent a good part of the weekend doing that and I learned a lot. I intend to write more about him, too. Not just here, but in a personal diary I am writing which I hope to publish some day. Meanwhile, by writing about Howard, we are keeping his memory alive. One day I will visit his grave in Tinton Falls and place there a small but suiting tribute to his life and heroism.


    • David
      Jul 14, 2017

      Richard: Glad to get your story. My wife and visited the Vietnam Memorial in Washington and half-size exhibits here in San Francisco to see Howie’s name and that of another officer I knew. I’ve written about Howie previously and was contacted by his nephew, born after Howie’s death and named after him. Keeping Howie’s memory alive is the best gift we can offer, and it’s good to know that others outside his family are doing so.

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