Roughly 1,000 Legionnaires, veterans, community leaders and family members of Medal of Honor recipients joined together the evening of March 2 at the iconic Theatre at Ace Hotel in downtown Los Angeles to honor recipients of our nation’s highest award for military valor. Hosted by American Legion Palisades Post 283 and the LA County Department of Mental Health, the event paid honor to the 3,522 Medals of Honor that have been awarded to American soldiers, sailors, airmen, Marines and Coast Guardsmen since the decoration's creation in 1861.
The evening featured an episode from the Netflix documentary “Medal of Honor,” followed by a roundtable discussion. As well as a presentation on the great work the Medal of Honor Foundation is engaged in and Post 283 provided a check for $30,000 to help with that mission. National Medal of Honor Day is March 25.
Constructed in 1927, The Theater at Ace Hotel was originally the premiere theater for United Artists movies. It was founded by Mary Pickford, Douglas Fairbanks, Charlie Chaplin and D.W. Griffith, and at the time of its completion it was the tallest building in Los Angeles. The theater ceiling stands roughly six stories above the stage and orchestra pit and its grandeur matched perfectly with the red carpet and formal attire worn by those in attendance, as well as the three Medals of Honor on display during the event.
A video greeting from American Legion National Commander Brett Reistad was played for those in attendance, followed by greetings from Jere Romano, Post 283 commander, and Joe Ramirez, post adjutant and district chaplain.
“While The American Legion works hard in D.C. on behalf of veterans on a national level, our local posts work hard in our communities,” noted Reistad. “With that being said, I want to say a special thank you to the American Legion Palisades Post 283 for making this evening possible and representing The American Legion in such a dignified way. I also want to say a special thank you to Netflix and the production team for ensuring the ‘Medal of Honor’ series was created. I have had an opportunity to watch this series, and I’ve loved every episode. It's important these stories of sacrifice and service continue to be told and passed down through generations.”
House Committee on Veterans' Affairs Chairman Rep. Mark Takano, D-Calif, who lives nearby in Riverside, also provided greetings.
A portion of the evening was devoted to the Netflix episode about Medal of Honor recipient Edward Carter, an African American who received the medal for his actions in World War II.
Born in Los Angeles in 1916, to a family of missionaries, Carter grew up in India (where his mother was from) and later moved to Shanghai, China. In 1932, at the age of 15, Carter ran away from home and joined the Chinese Nationalist Army to fight against invading Japanese.
“He fought for two years but then his father turned him in for being too young,” said Daniel Gibran, professor of International Relations and Politics at Tennessee State University who fought for many years to see Carter’s Distinguished Service Cross upgraded. “So he left and ended up in Spain, and he joined the Abraham Lincoln Brigade of Americans who were fighting against the Fascists.”
Following the outbreak of the Second World War, Carter enlisted on Sept. 26, 1941. Already having significant combat experience from China and Spain, Carter quickly attained the rank of staff sergeant. However, because of the segregated military, he was relegated to a non-combat unit.
“The Army didn’t feel like they would make great soldiers “said Allene Carter, daughter-in-law of Edward, who spoke at the event. Allene wrote a book about his life called “Honoring Sergeant Carter.”
“They felt that they were lazy… they were cowards,” she said. “You do the trucks, you do the runs, you’re a mechanic, you build bridges, but you don’t fight. That’s reserved for the white soldiers.”
But by January of 1945, casualties forced the military to allow black servicemembers into combat. However, there was a catch. Despite Carter being a staff sergeant, E6, he would have to go back to being a private, E1. He volunteered nonetheless with 4,500 other “negro troops” who Allene said “wanted to go bad.”
“[Carter] was an experienced soldier. When he got called up he was probably one of the first to agree to go,” Allene said. “He was assigned to the 12 Armored on March 12. March 23 they were taking Speyer, Germany.”
Carter’s initial Distinguished Service Cross citation noted, “When the tank on which he was riding received heavy bazooka and small arms fire, Sergeant Carter voluntarily attempted to lead a three-man group across an open field. Within a short time, two of his men were killed and the third seriously wounded. Continuing on alone, he was wounded five times and finally forced to take cover. As eight enemy riflemen attempted to capture him, Sergeant Carter killed six of them and captured the remaining two. He then crossed the field using as a shield his two prisoners from which he obtained valuable information concerning the disposition of enemy troops.”
After being sent to the rear to recover from his injuries, Carter went AWOL from the hospital only to show up back at his unit proclaiming himself ready to get back into the fight. Once he returned home from the war, Carter was greeted ecstatically by those in his hometown and then moved to Fort Lewis, Wash., with his wife and two sons to be a military policeman. Carter tried to re-enlist in 1948, but unbeknownst to him, anyone who had fought with the Abraham Lincoln Brigade was classified by the Army as a “communist.” And despite his awards for valor, he was banned from reenlistment.
Carter passed away at the young age of 47, and was buried in Los Angeles.
“The legal term might be cancer,” said Allene following the viewing of his video. “But that’s not right. Sergeant Carter died from a broken heart.”
Carter’s Distinguished Service Cross was finally upgraded, along with those of six others awarded to African American soldiers, on Jan. 13, 1997, by President Bill Clinton. On that same day, Carter was disinterred and buried in Arlington National Cemetery.
Joining Allene in the roundtable discussion were Ilene Bezjian, executive director of the Western Region at Congressional Medal of Honor Foundation; Col. Peter Crean of the National WWII Museum; James Moll, director of the Medal of Honor episode on Edward Carter; and David Bertoldo, son of Medal of Honor recipient Vito Bertoldo. Vito’s story is chronicled in a different episode of the “Medal of Honor” series.
Janice Bowman, second vice commander of Post 283 and the event director, noted that while The American Legion is not “in the business of making movies,” we are, however, in the business to support our military and veterans and a large number of veterans are drawn to Hollywood to work in various capacities in the film and entertainment industry.
“This is not a regular documentary series or film, it is the Medal of Honor,” Bowman said. “This event will show that when a production not only hires veterans, but also does a great job in telling these stories in an impactful and deeply meaningful way, and you can’t get any more meaningful than the Medal of Honor.”
"It's great to see The American Legion be a leader in putting on a great event like this, bringing the community together to bring awareness to these great stories of sacrifice” said Mike Dowling, a military advisor to the Netflix “Medal of Honor” series, as well as a eight-year member of Post 283. “In fact, one of the episodes in the Netflix series is about Medal of Honor recipient Joseph Vittori, who served in the Korean War, and tracking down Korean War veteran and Navy Cross recipient Lyle Conaway, an eye witness to Vittori's actions, I called the local American Legion in Conaway's town hoping they were in touch with Lyle. Sure enough, he was a Legion member and they put me in touch with him so we can bring him on the show."
“We need to be reminded of the true purpose of serving so that we can encourage people to continue to volunteer and serve our country,” Bowman said. “We also need to assist those that leave the military in finding their purpose and to help them to continue their mission.”
For Reistad, events like this are crucial as The American Legion celebrates its centennial.
“The Medal of Honor is the highest medal awarded for valor to our military members and by being here this evening you are now helping our nation to honor its deserving heroes,” Reistad said in his greetings. “We must provide more opportunities, such as this Netflix ‘Medal of Honor’ series, to learn about the sacrifices our military and their families have made and why we must support them.”