Korean War heroes reflect conspicuous gallantry
by Rob McIlvaine Apr 28, 2011
ARLINGTON (Army News Service, April 28, 2011) -- Two Soldiers who died as a result of their gallant and intrepid actions during the Korean War will be posthumously awarded the Medal Honor during a ceremony, May 2, 2011, at the White House.
It will be the families of Pfc. Anthony T. Kaho'ohanohano and Pfc. Henry Svehla who receive the medals from President Barack Obama on behalf of the two Soldiers.
The Soldiers earned their medals during separate incidents in the war, and on different dates, but both were just out of their teens and far from the warm safety of their American homes when they died for their country -- fighting enemy aggression near the 38th Parallel in Korea.
Kaho'ohanohano, just 21, hailed from Hawaii. He left his home in Maui to fight with Company H, 17th Infantry Regiment, 7th Infantry Division. He distinguished himself by extraordinary heroism in action against the enemy in the vicinity of Chupa-ri, Korea, on Sept. 1, 1951.
Svehla, from Newark, New Jersey, was 20 when he fought with Company F, 32nd Infantry Regiment, 7th Infantry Division and distinguished himself by extraordinary heroism on June 12, 1952 as a rifleman while on patrol near Pyongony, Korea.
In charge of a machine-gun squad being overrun by a numerically superior enemy force, Kaho'ohanohano decided to gather up a supply of grenades and ammunition and faced the enemy alone. After discharging all of his ammo, he engaged the enemy in hand-to-hand combat until he was killed.
"His heroism inspired his comrades who launched a counterattack and completely repulsed the enemy. Upon reaching his emplacement, friendly troops discovered 11 enemy Soldiers lying dead before it and two within, beaten to death with an entrenching shovel," reads Kaho'ohanohano's citation.
"Anthony was my uncle," said George Kaho'ohanohano. "I was only 18 months old when he died, but my mom, Madeline, and my father, Abel L. Kaho'ohanohano, Anthony's older brother, used to tell me the story of how Anthony liked riding around with my parents. They were really close."
"And they used to tell me how my uncle called me Bambi," he explained. "I knew it couldn't be for my size, I'm not a small person. But she said, 'no, you always used to look up at him with these big brown eyes, just like Bambi.' That story has always stuck with me."
Anthony would have been proud of his Bambi and his brothers, Eugene and Abel. George is now a retired police captain with 30 years of service, Uncle Eugene also served in the police department, and both headed up details for presidents Carter and Clinton, Vice President Dan Quayle, a couple of sheiks and royalty from the Arab Republic. They both served in the National Guard.
Older brother Abel, George's father, served in World War II in the Philippines. After returning to Hawaii, he joined the National Guard and when his son, George, was in his senior year at high school, he was activated and he went to Vietnam for two tours.
"Most of my family feels like it's a big burden being lifted," he said, adding that his father started petitioning U.S. Congress to get the proper recognition for his brother in 1995.
Seven members of Anthony's family are coming for the ceremony, including Eugene, his sister Elaine, and his nephew George with wife Barbara and mother Madeline.
"We're happy that it's going to happen, but we are disappointed it took so long," he said. In 2009, Sen. Daniel Akaka sponsored the provision in the National Defense Authorization Act, authorizing the Army to award the Medal of Honor. Akaka will be present with the family at the White House.
Svehla's mission was to determine enemy strength and position on a strategic hill. As the platoon's attack reached the top of the hill, it was subjected to intense enemy automatic weapons and small fire.
"It looked as though the assault would falter when suddenly, Pvt. Svehla leapt to his feet and charged the enemy positions, firing his weapon and throwing grenades as he advanced," read the citation. "When fragments from a mortar round wounded him seriously, Svehla refused medical treatment and continued to lead the attack until an enemy grenade landed and he was mortally wounded."
Svehla's family worked for more than a decade to get him Medal of Honor recognition.
"In 2001, we began working to get Henry awarded the Medal of Honor," said Anthony Svehla Jr., Henry's nephew, the son of his older brother, Anthony Sr. "I originally did this for my Uncle John, also Henry's older brother, after he told me told me the story how his sisters had tried to have the medal upgraded."
He has letters from the Department of the Army in 2003 and from Congressman Bill Pascrell in 2006. Then in 2009, Anthony found out that the Defense Authorization Act had upgraded Henry for the Medal of Honor.
"He gave his life for other men, that's what the Medal of Honor is all about. That's why I started this but we waited and waited and then I got a the call last month in February that this was going to happen," he said.
It's a shame, he said, the announcement came not long after Uncle John passed away.
But because Anthony wasn't considered the next of kin, the sisters, Dorothy, Sylvia and Anne, were contacted.
"Henry was a wonderful young man," said Dorothy Mathews. "He was a wonderful brother. He loved his siblings. He loved my mom."
Mathews said when the Korean War started, Svehla was ready to fight.
"The Korean War was going on and it just came into his head that he wanted to go off to war," Mathews said. "He went to Barringer High (School) in Newark for two years and after that he worked odd jobs. I don't recall doing what, and then he enlisted in the service."
She said it was a telegram that let her know her older brother had been killed. "I was only 15 at the time," Mathews said.
Their mom went to get the Purple Heart and the Distinguished Service Cross in Hoboken, N.J., because the Army shipyard was there at the time, she thinks. She and her brother Anthony also gave DNA swabs to the Korean War Project, "to positively identify the remains if any are ever found," she said.
"I'm just so honored. It took a lot of guts, I tell you. You know, when I was younger, I didn't get the conception of it all, but as I got older, I realized so many things and he is a true hero," she said.
Following the White House ceremony will be a ceremony in the Hall of Heroes at the Pentagon, May 3.