Earlier this year, Lloyd Austin made history as the first Black man to be named United States Secretary of Defense. Now, he's using his position to honor those that paved the way for him to hold his current role. In a memo released earlier this month, Austin stated that he intends to review honorary medals given to Black and Indigenous soldiers as far as back as World War II and determine if they should be presented with the Medal of Honor instead.
“It has come to my attention that African American and Native American Service Cross recipients did not receive the same opportunities to have their valorous actions reviewed for possible upgrade to the Medal of Honor," Austin stated.
“To correct this oversight, I direct the Secretaries of the Military Departments to conduct reviews to determine if such Veterans’ actions warrant award for the Medal of Honor.”
This is not an uncommon action for the U.S. Department of Defense to take. In the 1990s, a similar action was taken to honor Asian-American and Pacific Islander veterans. A few years later, similar steps were taken to properly honor Jewish and Latinx veterans. With that said, there are a few clerical hurdles that may make this process arduous.
“The military departments do not keep lists of Service Cross recipients divided by race or ethnicity,” Army Major Charlie Dietz said.
“The military departments will review the records of service members awarded the service cross for valorous actions during the specified wars to determine which of those veterans are African American or Native American.”
Moving forward, the acts of Indigenous soldiers in World War II, the Vietnam War and the Korean War will be examined. However, only the acts of Black soldiers in the Korean and Vietnam Wars will be examined. The results of these reviews will be due on August 2, 2026.