may 3, 2011

Medal of Honor Posthumously Awarded to Newark Born Soldier of Korean War

Pvt. 1st Class Henry Svehla was serving as a rifleman in the 7th Infantry Division when his platoon came under heavy fire on June 12, 1952.

Private First Class Henry Svehla

NEWARK, NJ - Pvt. 1st Class Henry Svehla, the Newark born soldier fighting in Korea at 19 years old who threw himself on a grenade to save his platoon in Korea nearly 59 years ago "made this country safer," President Obama said Monday as he posthumously awarded the nation’s highest military honor to the New Jersey Hero.

Svehla was serving as a rifleman in the 7th Infantry Division when his platoon came under heavy fire on June 12, 1952. Svehla charged the advancing enemy, firing his weapon and throwing grenades. He inflicted heavy casualties and destroyed enemy positions, and kept on fighting after being hit in the face by a fragment of a mortar shell.

But it was his actions when a grenade landed among a group of his comrades where he displayed unparalleled bravery.

"Every human instinct, every impulse would tell a person to turn away. But at that critical moment, Henry Svehla did the opposite. He threw himself on that grenade and with his sacrifice he saved the lives of his fellow soldiers," Obama said.

The Medal of Honor was finally awarded to Svehla after a ten year crusade by his nephew, who was born after he died.

"My uncle was a great man," Anthony Svehla of Belleville told reporters after the ceremony. "Obviously, I wasn’t born before he had passed away, but the stories I was told by my uncles and my father always inspired me. ... About 10 years ago, I went on the Internet and I started researching Medal of Honor winners, and I found there were many who had given their life the same way my uncle did, and I believed he deserved the medal just like them," he said.

John Svehla, the medal winner’s brother, had hoped to be able to see Henry Svehla honored but died in August of cancer.

The Medal of Honor was accepted by Svehla’s sister, Dorothy Mathews of Texas. The award culminated nearly a decade of effort by the family with the help of New Jersey Congressman Bill Pascrell.

“This is, at once, a joyous and a solemn occasion,” Pascrell said in a statement. “There is joy that Private Svehla will receive the nation’s highest honor, and that his family will receive the gratitude of a nation indebted to him for his ultimate and permanent sacrifice. But we can’t help but be solemn when we reflect on the magnitude of Private Svehla’s heroism. He saved the lives of those who fought with him on that battlefield in Korea. But, in a way, he saved all of our lives as Americans.”