The Medal of Honor is the ultimate symbol of military bravery, but a new documentary insists that too many service members have been passed over due to prejudice.
The 30-minute documentary “More Than a Medal” will screen twice this week in our area, first on Tuesday at the National Museum of the U.S. Army in Fort Belvoir, Virginia, and again on Thursday at the U.S. Navy Memorial in D.C. Both events begin at 6:30 p.m.
The film chronicles the Valor Medals Review Project by Park University’s George S. Robb Centre for the Study of the Great War, which is analyzing whether minority veterans from World War I were unjustly denied awards simply because of their faith or skin color.
“It’s a documentary dealing with a systemic valor of medals review of African American, Asian American, Hispanic American, Jewish American and Native American World War I service members who may have been denied the Medal of Honor due to race or religious discrimination,” Dr. Tim Westcott, director of the George S. Robb Centre, told WTOP.
“There have been 121 Medal of Honor recipients from World War I,” Westcott said. “Only seven of that 121 are service members from one of those five demographic groups that we mentioned, three of those seven have been recent, in the last couple of decades, two being African American and one being a Jewish American. Those three were posthumously awarded.”
In total, the group has identified 214 World War I heroes that may have been passed over.
“In terms of a systematic review, this is the first one for World War I and probably the last,” Associate Director of Research & Initiatives Ashlyn Weber said. “This is also the largest systematic review ever performed. We’ve seen reviews of World War II, Korean Conflict and Vietnam. … We’ve never seen this before. Neither has the Department of Defense.”
The film highlights Sgt. William Alexander Butler, an African American from Salisbury, Maryland. He received the Distinguished Service Cross, Croix de Guerre with Bronze Palm and Purple Heart for serving in the 93rd Division better known as the Harlem Hellfighters alongside George S. Robb, the namesake for the group screening the documentary.
“Robb is a Medal of Honor recipient,” Westcott said. “Robb’s Medal of Honor nomination document has Robb’s nomination on the top part of the paper and literally on the same piece of paper below Robb’s is the Medal of Honor nomination for William A. Butler. Robb receives the Medal of Honor and Butler’s is downgraded for almost the same actions.”
The documentary also highlights Pvt. Sing Lau Kee, an Asian American who received the Distinguished Service Cross, Croix de Guerre with Bronze Star and Purple Heart, but was passed over for the Medal of Honor despite his valor in France during World War I.
“He single-handedly operated a communications post on top of the mountain,” Associate Director of Military Research Joshua Weston said. “Had he not been there, the 77th Division would have likely been overran by Germans. … He was constantly being hit by high explosives and mustard gas … but he cared more about the Allied forces’ success.”
The screenings will open with remarks by Westcott. There will also be a post-screening Q&A session with Westcott and members of the Robb Centre staff.
Admission is free and open to the public, but reservations are required.