The nation’s highest award for valor — the Medal of Honor — may be given to five soldiers after President Joe Biden’s signed the 2021 defense policy bill. And four from the 1993 Battle of Mogadishu, known also as the Black Hawk Down incident, could see their awards upgraded to the Distinguished Service Cross.
In the bill, Congress formally waived time limits on presenting the awards — a final administrative step necessary for Biden to present them.
Of the five potential Medal of Honor recipients, three fought in the Korean War, and two fought in the Vietnam War. The list of potential upgrades includes:
- Pfc. Charles R. Johnson, who received the Silver Star posthumously in 2011 for his efforts to defend a hilltop outpost in Korea on June 11-12, 1953. Johnson, who was killed in the battle and didn’t initially receive any award, was a member of the 3rd Infantry Division from New York.
- Pfc. Wataru Nakamura, a 2nd Infantry Division soldier who received a posthumous Distinguished Service Cross in 1952 after making a “one-man assault” on bunkers recently captured by the enemy before dawn on May 18, 1951. Nakamura, a Japanese-American who was forced to live in an internment camp during World War II, was a former member of the famous 442nd Regimental Combat Team during the previous war.
- Pvt. Bruno R. Orig, who posthumously received the Distinguished Service Cross for actions on Feb. 15, 1951 in Korea, when he ran into a firefight, evacuating wounded soldiers and taking over a machine gun position after its crew was hit. Orig’s suppressing fire allowed an entire platoon to retreat, but the 2nd Infantry Division soldier died manning the machine gun.
- Staff Sgt. Edward N. Kaneshiro, who saved his platoon from a deadly ambush in Vietnam on Dec. 1, 1966, when he single-handedly assaulted and cleared a trench line and bunkers that were pinning the unit down. A previous recipient of the Silver Star, the 1st Cavalry Division soldier was posthumously awarded the Distinguished Service Cross for the December firefight after he was killed in action in March 1967.
- Spc. 5 Dennis M. Fujii, a medical evacuation helicopter crew chief who was left behind, wounded, in Laos amid a massive enemy attack in Feb. 1971. Fujii received the Distinguished Service Cross after coordinating U.S. airstrikes and artillery in defense of a South Vietnamese base there for two days before he could be safely evacuated. Fujii’s actions were later memorialized in the Army’s official history of medevac operations, and he later sat down for an oral history interview about his experience.
In addition to the Medals of Honor, Congress also waived time requirements for four soldiers involved in the 1993 Battle of Mogadishu to receive the Distinguished Service Cross. Pending Army Secretary Christine Wormuth’s approval of the awards, the four soldiers now eligible to receive the Distinguished Service Cross are:
- Sgt. 1st Class Earl R. Fillmore, Jr., a Delta Force operator who died Oct. 4, 1993 while leading a movement to one of the UH-60 Black Hawk crash sites.
- Master Sgt. John G. Macejunas, a Delta Force NCO who led multiple rescue efforts searching for the missing personnel from the helicopters, according to journalist Mark Bowden.
- Retired Col. Robert Mabry, who was an enlisted Delta Force medic during the battle. He later became a medical doctor and played a key role in the U.S. military’s adoption of the emergency tourniquet as a standard part of medical care on the battlefield. He later served as command surgeon for Joint Special Operations Command.
- Retired Command Sgt. Maj. William F. Thetford, who previously received the Silver Star for actions during the battle. His military career culminated as the senior enlisted leader for U.S. Central Command before he retired in 2019.
The potential upgrades to the Army’s second-highest valor award come on the heels of 58 Silver Star upgrades presented to veterans of the “Black Hawk Down” engagement after a comprehensive review earlier this year.
All awards authorized by Congress will require final approval from the appropriate authorities.
Davis Winkie is a senior reporter covering the Army, specializing in accountability reporting, personnel issues and military justice. He joined Military Times in 2020. Davis studied history at Vanderbilt University and UNC-Chapel Hill, writing a master's thesis about how the Cold War-era Defense Department influenced Hollywood's WWII movies.