WWI Navy hero might get Medal of Honor 52 decades immediately after death

MELBOURNE, Fla. — Frederick Riefkohl was the initial Puerto Rican to graduate from the U.S. Naval Academy. A Planet War I hero who led a productive showdown with a German submarine. And a Globe War II ship commander who retired as a rear admiral — he even has his individual Wikipedia site.

But Riefkohl did not obtain the Medal of Honor, America’s maximum award for valor in battle, to commemorate his WWI gallantry.

Why? The previous Merritt Island resident might have been unfairly discriminated from by armed forces brass for the reason that of his island heritage, a staff of Wonderful War scientists suggests.

Riefkohl is a person of 214 WWI minority veterans recognized hence considerably by the Valor Medals Assessment Undertaking, a Congress-authorized study spearheaded by Park University around Kansas Metropolis, Missouri.

Park College officials say this is the first these systematic evaluation of minority veterans of the Terrific War. Research will go on right up until 2025, when documentation supporting Medal of Honor nominations will be forwarded to the Section of Defense for feasible motion, which includes posthumous awards.

Riefkohl was ‘an American patriot’

Riefkohl is the lone Puerto Rican on the record of 214 troops, said Timothy Westcott, director of the non-public university’s George S. Robb Centre for the Review of the Excellent War.

As a lieutenant and commander of the armed guard of the cruiser USS Philadelphia, Riefkohl was awarded the Navy Cross after an engagement with an enemy submarine.

“On 2 August 1917, a periscope was sighted, and then a torpedo passed below the stern of the ship. A shot was fired, which struck close to the submarine, which then disappeared,” Riefkohl’s Navy Cross quotation claimed.

Couple of additional facts on the WWI incident have been unearthed from the historic report, reported Ashlyn Weber, Robb Centre affiliate director. The Valor Medals Assessment Job has identified this as a possible Medal of Honor-worthy motion.

Donn Weaver, who chairs the Brevard Veterans Council, labeled Riefkohl “an American patriot.”

“A trouble is that not sufficient documentation was carried out since they have been not considered as entirely deserving at that time — and that’s absurd,” Weaver claimed.

“Obviously, a large example was Melvin Morris when he was awarded — what was it, 30 years afterwards, 40 many years later on? — the Medal of Honor for his heroic actions in Vietnam,” he explained.

“All veterans — no matter of their race, colour or creed — do assistance and sacrifice. And all require to be identified — without reference to their race, color or creed — for that service and sacrifice,” he stated.

Melvin Morris waited for 44 yrs

Morris, a Black retired Military sergeant very first course who lives in Port St. John, waited much more than 44 decades to receive his Medal of Honor.

Again in September 1969, Morris billed into device-gun fire and ruined four enemy bunkers with hand grenades whilst retrieving the overall body of a fallen team commander in the vicinity of Chi Lang. He was shot a few periods in the course of action, but he survived.

President Barack Obama awarded the Medal of Honor to Morris all through a March 2014 ceremony in the East Space of the White Property. Morris had beforehand been bestowed the Distinguished Company Cross, the Army’s 2nd-highest commendation.

In 2015, a lifestyle-sized bronze statue of Morris was unveiled at Riverfront Park in Cocoa. The Civilian Armed service Group Basis elevated money for the statue.

The Valor Medals Review Undertaking is researching WWI African American, Asian American, Hispanic American, Jewish American and Indigenous American service customers who may possibly have been unfairly denied the Medal of Honor simply because of their racial or spiritual track record.

To qualify for the overview, WWI minority veterans should have gained the Army’s Distinguished Services Cross or Navy Cross, which rank 1 stage under the Medal of Honor the Croix de Guerre avec Palme, France’s best award for valor or an archivally documented Medal of Honor recommendation.

“Minority veterans who exhibited the greatest acts of valor during WWI are worthy of to be acknowledged with the Medal of Honor,” Sen. Roy Blunt, R-Missouri, mentioned in a 2019 information release announcing the evaluation.

“We simply cannot erase the discrimination minority provider members faced, but we can make sure their heroic deeds are acknowledged and honored,” explained Blunt, who co-sponsored the invoice with Sen. Chris Van Hollen, D-Maryland.

Fond of adventure, weak spot for jolly

As opposed to most of the minority troops in the Valor Medals Review Undertaking, Weber explained Riefkohl is comparatively well known.

Born in 1889 in Maunabo, Puerto Rico, Riefkohl became the initially Puerto Rican to graduate from the Naval Academy in 1911.

“Fritz is from Puerto Rico and Boston, but his suggestions and accomplishments are not confined even to these boundaries,” mentioned an entry in Lucky Bag, the Naval Academy yearbook.

“He has the Southerner’s combating blood, held in verify by New England conservatism, the Westerner’s fondness of journey, and the American higher education man’s weak point for all which is jolly,” the entry claimed.

After WWI, he served aboard an array of ships and held a range of posts. He was commanding the cruiser USS Vincennes when she was sunk by Japanese naval forces for the duration of the 1942 Fight of Savo Island in Entire world War II.

Riefkohl retired from the Navy as a rear admiral, then moved to southern Merritt Island in 1947 with his spouse, Louise, to shell out their golden decades.

The Cocoa Tribune described that the few obtained a grove of mango, avocado and citrus fruit trees, then developed a attractive estate there off South Tropical Path. Their residence was loaded with furnishings collected from all around the world during his Naval profession. He also served as an officer with the Indian River Yacht Club.

Riefkohl died in September 1969 at age 80 at Patrick Air Pressure Foundation Clinic. He did not have any biological small children, Weber said.

A breakdown of the 214 WWI troops certified for critique by the Valor Medals Overview Job from the Military, Military Air Corps, Maritime Corps, Navy and Navy Air Corps:

  • 105 Jewish Individuals
  • 73 African Us residents
  • 23 Native Us residents
  • 12 Hispanic Us citizens
  • Just one Asian American

Medal nomination downgraded

George S. Robb, a 1912 Park University graduate and namesake of its WWI research heart, was a white U.S. Military initial lieutenant who led the 369th Infantry Regiment all through the Good War. Nicknamed the Harlem Hellfighters and the Harlem Rattlers, this Black regiment was comprised of New York Military National Guardsmen from Harlem.

Robb afterwards gained the Medal of Honor for foremost his platoon when severely wounded. Even so, Westcott said Robb’s nominating kind in the National Archives also included a nomination for 369th Infantry Regiment Sgt. William Butler of White Plains, Maryland.

Butler rescued five captured American troops in August 1918 by counter-attacking a team of 25 Germans, killing four of them, close to Maison-de-Champagne, France.

“Butler’s [Medal of Honor] nomination was downgraded to a Distinguished Service Cross. George Robb is Caucasian. Mr. Butler is an African American,” Westcott mentioned.

New York University record professor Jeffrey Sammons found the Robb-Butler nominating sort a few decades back even though investigating the Harlem Hellfighters, supporting prompt the Valor Medals Overview Task.

Butler is now one of the 214 WWI troops up for evaluation.

“America has a sacred bond with these who swore to protect her, and there is no extra highly effective manifestation of that covenant than the Medal of Honor,” the Valor Medals Assessment Job web site states.

“The gravity of these awards indicates their rarity have to be jealously safeguarded they can in no way be allowed to be diluted in the name of making a political point,” the site states.

“Every hero from the Fantastic War whose deeds warrant the award receives it, no matter of the instances of their beginning or the color of pores and skin.”