WASHINGTON — When President Barack Obama expressed his pride in America's men and women in uniform, he was speaking about those who hours earlier had killed al-Qaida leader Osama bin Laden and those who six decades earlier had given their lives in the Korean War.
During a somber ceremony Monday in the White House East Room, Obama bestowed the Medal of Honor posthumously on two Army privates — Anthony T. Kaho'ohanohano of Pukalani, Hawaii, and Henry Svehla of Belleville, N.J.
"Today we remember them with the highest military decoration that our nation can bestow," Obama said, describing the pair as "hometown kids who stood tall in America's uniform."
The commander in chief also reflected on the news of bin Laden's death at the hands of U.S. forces during a raid in Pakistan, saying "I think we can all agree this is a good day for America."
Kaho'ohanohano was in charge of a machine-gun squad with Company H, 17th Infrantry Regiment, 7th Infantry Division on Sept. 1, 1951, when they were overrun by enemy forces. He ordered the squad to fall back and seek cover, then gathered up some grenades and fought the enemy alone. When his ammunition ran out, he fought them hand-to-hand until he was killed.
Svehla, a rifleman with Company F, 32nd Infantry Regiment, 7th Infantry Division, charged enemy positions when his platoon began to falter under heavy fire on June 12, 1952. He destroyed enemy positions and inflicted heavy casualties, but when an enemy grenade landed among a group of his comrades, he threw himself on the grenade and was fatally wounded.
Relatives accepted the medals on behalf of their deceased loved ones.
Anthony Svehla, a nephew, said he never knew his uncle but was so inspired by the stories relatives told him that about 10 years ago he began researching Medal of Honor winners on the Internet and contacted his congressman. His uncle had received a Distinguished Service Cross — as did Kaho'ohanohano — but Anthony Svehla said he thought his uncle deserved a higher level of recognition and pressed for it.
"We feel very honored and proud today that my uncle received this medal," he said afterward.