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Park University to Host Valor Medals Review Program at National WWI Museum and Memorial 

By Dr. Timothy Westcott

In mid-April, the U.S. World War I Centennial Commission and Park University announced that they were spearheading the effort of a Congress-led systematic review of minority veterans who served in World War I who may have been denied the Medal of Honor due to race.

Information on that effort can be found on the Centennial Commission's web site at https://www.worldwar1centennial.org/index.php/our-goals.html

On Wednesday, June 19, the University will host a program “From Kansas City to Washington, D.C.: World War I Valor Medals Review,” at the National World War I Museum and Memorial in Kansas City, Mo., starting at 6:30 p.m. Admission to the event is free and open to the public, but attendees should RSVP at my.theworldwar.org/4234.

A Park University Spencer Cave Black History Month lecture in February 2016 that featured a discussion about the role a white Park alumnus and World War I hero played as the leader of the mostly black 369th Regiment of New York (known as the “Harlem Hellfighters”) served as the inspiration of a multi-partner initiative to undertake this review. The Valor Medals Review is being conducted by the University’s George S. Robb Centre for the Study of the Great War and the Valor Medals Review Task Force which was formed in August 2018 in conjunction with the Foundation for the Commemoration of the World Wars on behalf of the U.S. World War I Centennial Commission. The Robb Centre’s namesake was a 1912 Park University graduate and a 1919 Medal of Honor recipient.

The interactive program will include Park University panelists Timothy Westcott, Ph.D., director of the Robb Centre and associate professor of history, and Bridget Locke, director of strategic communications. Both are members of the Valor Medals Review Task Force, of which Westcott is the co-chair. The discussion will be moderated by Kimberlee Ried, public affairs specialist, National Archives at Kansas City. The event will describe the three-year journey of the effort thus far, some of the stories that have been uncovered along the way and the intense research work which lies ahead, which will take five to seven years to complete.

Since 1941, Congress and the Department of Defense have reviewed the military’s process for awarding valor medals to ensure minority veterans were recognized equitably, but no review has occurred for World War I veterans. In April, however, the U.S. House of Representatives and U.S. Senate introduced separate bills to require the systematic review of minority veterans who served in World War I. Park University was the driving force behind the bipartisan bills introduced in Congress on April 10 (H.R.2249) and April 11 (S.1218).

The legislation, if signed into law, will require the Department of Defense to carry out a systematic review of select members of the U.S. Armed Forces, who, in spite of valorous deeds, may have been denied the Medal of Honor due to race. The bills also waive the statute of limitations associated with any cases identified by the review, authorizing the award of a Medal of Honor to any individuals identified by the DOD in the study.

To be eligible for the review, a veteran must have received a Distinguished Service Cross and/or received/been recommended for a Medal of Honor or the French Croix de Guerre with palm. Additionally, the veteran must be African-American, Asian-American, Hispanic-American, Jewish-American or Native American. With the exception of Native Americans, this criteria is based exactly on existing precedent used by Congress since the beginning of the systematic reviews in the 1990s. Though excluded by the World War II and later reviews, Native Americans are included in this review as their World War I service predates the Indian Citizenship Act of 1924 (also known as the Snyder Act).

Read more about Park University’s role in this review at park.edu/news/valor-medals-review/. This program is presented in partnership with the National Archives at Kansas City and the National World War I Museum and Memorial.

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