On March 6, 1951, a platoon of American soldiers serving in the Korean War came under heavy fire by the Chinese Army near Yangpyong, Korea. When the platoon’s Machine Gunner was wounded, Private First Class Leonard Kravitz took over for his injured comrade. Shortly thereafter, the platoon was ordered to retreat. PFC Kravitz refused to withdraw, because he knew that if he left his position, the Chinese would take the advantage. His protective fire enabled a safe retreat for his comrades, but cost him his life. When the American troops retook the area, they found Kravitz’s body slumped over the gun, the majority of ammunition expended, and numerous enemy dead before him. Posthumously, he was awarded the Distinguished Service Cross, the second highest military award accorded to members of the United States Army.
PFC Leonard Kravitz (the uncle of the musician of the same name) was 20 years old when he was killed in action. His heroism may have remained just one of the many stories of fallen soldiers cherished by the surviving family, if not for Kravitz’s close friend from his Brooklyn childhood, Mitchel Libman.
Libman was bothered that Kravitz had not received the Medal of Honor, the most prestigious American military award. He noticed that Kravitz and numerous other deserving Jewish heroes had been given lesser honors for similar acts of valor by non-Jewish servicemen who had received the Medal of Honor. In fact, not one of the 136 Medals of Honor awarded during the Korean War was given to a member of the Jewish faith.
Libman’s findings developed into a multi-decade campaign that was later taken up by Congressman Robert Wexler of Florida. In 2001, Representative Wexler introduced the Jewish War Veterans Act (informally called the “Leonard Kravitz Jewish War Veterans Act”), which called for a review of Jewish veterans awarded the Distinguished Service Cross to determine if the Medal of Honor should have been given. The request for Kravitz’s upgrade is still under review.
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