MELBOURNE, Fla. — Frederick Riefkohl was the primary Puerto Rican to graduate from the U.S. Naval Academy. A World Conflict I hero who led a profitable showdown with a German submarine. And a World Conflict II ship commander who retired as a rear admiral — he even has his personal Wikipedia web page.
However Riefkohl didn’t obtain the Medal of Honor, America’s highest award for valor in fight, to commemorate his WWI gallantry.
Why? The previous Merritt Island resident might have been unfairly discriminated in opposition to by army brass due to his island heritage, a workforce of Nice Conflict researchers says.
Riefkohl is one in all 214 WWI minority veterans recognized up to now by the Valor Medals Evaluate Venture, a Congress-authorized examine spearheaded by Park College close to Kansas Metropolis, Missouri.
Park College officers say that is the primary such systematic assessment of minority veterans of the Nice Conflict. Analysis will proceed till 2025, when documentation supporting Medal of Honor nominations will probably be forwarded to the Division of Protection for attainable motion, together with posthumous awards.
Riefkohl was ‘an American patriot’
Riefkohl is the lone Puerto Rican on the checklist of 214 troops, mentioned Timothy Westcott, director of the personal college’s George S. Robb Centre for the Examine of the Nice Conflict.
As a lieutenant and commander of the armed guard of the cruiser USS Philadelphia, Riefkohl was awarded the Navy Cross after an engagement with an enemy submarine.
“On 2 August 1917, a periscope was sighted, after which a torpedo handed beneath the strict of the ship. A shot was fired, which struck near the submarine, which then disappeared,” Riefkohl’s Navy Cross quotation mentioned.
Few extra particulars on the WWI incident have been unearthed from the historic document, mentioned Ashlyn Weber, Robb Centre affiliate director. The Valor Medals Evaluate Venture has recognized this as a possible Medal of Honor-worthy motion.
Donn Weaver, who chairs the Brevard Veterans Council, labeled Riefkohl “an American patriot.”
“An issue is that not sufficient documentation was carried out as a result of they weren’t considered as absolutely deserving at the moment — and that’s absurd,” Weaver mentioned.
“Clearly, an enormous instance was Melvin Morris when he was awarded — what was it, 30 years later, 40 years later? — the Medal of Honor for his heroic actions in Vietnam,” he mentioned.
“All veterans — no matter their race, colour or creed — do service and sacrifice. And all should be acknowledged — regardless of their race, colour or creed — for that service and sacrifice,” he mentioned.
Melvin Morris waited for 44 years
Morris, a Black retired Military sergeant top notch who lives in Port St. John, waited greater than 44 years to obtain his Medal of Honor.
Again in September 1969, Morris charged into machine-gun hearth and destroyed 4 enemy bunkers with hand grenades whereas retrieving the physique of a fallen workforce commander close to Chi Lang. He was shot thrice within the course of, however he survived.
President Barack Obama awarded the Medal of Honor to Morris throughout a March 2014 ceremony within the East Room of the White Home. Morris had beforehand been bestowed the Distinguished Service Cross, the Military’s second-highest commendation.
In 2015, a life-sized bronze statue of Morris was unveiled at Riverfront Park in Cocoa. The Civilian Navy Neighborhood Basis raised funds for the statue.
The Valor Medals Evaluate Venture is learning WWI African American, Asian American, Hispanic American, Jewish American and Native American service members who might have been unfairly denied the Medal of Honor due to their racial or spiritual background.
To qualify for the assessment, WWI minority veterans should have acquired the Military’s Distinguished Service Cross or Navy Cross, which rank one stage under the Medal of Honor; the Croix de Guerre avec Palme, France’s highest award for valor; or an archivally documented Medal of Honor suggestion.
“Minority veterans who exhibited the very best acts of valor throughout WWI should be acknowledged with the Medal of Honor,” Sen. Roy Blunt, R-Missouri, mentioned in a 2019 information launch asserting the assessment.
“We can’t erase the discrimination minority service members confronted, however we are able to make sure that their heroic deeds are acknowledged and honored,” mentioned Blunt, who co-sponsored the invoice with Sen. Chris Van Hollen, D-Maryland.
Keen on journey, weak spot for jolly
In contrast to a lot of the minority troops within the Valor Medals Evaluate Venture, Weber mentioned Riefkohl is comparatively well-known.
Born in 1889 in Maunabo, Puerto Rico, Riefkohl turned the primary Puerto Rican to graduate from the Naval Academy in 1911.
“Fritz is from Puerto Rico and Boston, however his concepts and accomplishments are usually not confined even to those limits,” mentioned an entry in Fortunate Bag, the Naval Academy yearbook.
“He has the Southerner’s combating blood, held in verify by New England conservatism, the Westerner’s fondness of journey, and the American school man’s weak spot for all that’s jolly,” the entry mentioned.
After WWI, he served aboard an array of ships and held a wide range of posts. He was commanding the cruiser USS Vincennes when she was sunk by Japanese naval forces throughout the 1942 Battle of Savo Island in World Conflict II.
Riefkohl retired from the Navy as a rear admiral, then moved to southern Merritt Island in 1947 together with his spouse, Louise, to spend their golden years.
The Cocoa Tribune reported that the couple bought a grove of mango, avocado and citrus fruit timber, then constructed a gorgeous property there off South Tropical Path. Their house was stuffed with furnishings gathered from across the globe throughout his Naval profession. He additionally served as an officer with the Indian River Yacht Membership.
Riefkohl died in September 1969 at age 80 at Patrick Air Drive Base Hospital. He didn’t have any organic kids, Weber mentioned.
A breakdown of the 214 WWI troops certified for assessment by the Valor Medals Evaluate Venture from the Military, Military Air Corps, Marine Corps, Navy and Navy Air Corps:
- 105 Jewish People
- 73 African People
- 23 Native People
- 12 Hispanic People
- One Asian American
Medal nomination downgraded
George S. Robb, a 1912 Park College graduate and namesake of its WWI analysis middle, was a white U.S. Military first lieutenant who led the 369th Infantry Regiment throughout the Nice Conflict. Nicknamed the Harlem Hellfighters and the Harlem Rattlers, this Black regiment was comprised of New York Military Nationwide Guardsmen from Harlem.
Robb later acquired the Medal of Honor for main his platoon whereas severely wounded. Nonetheless, Westcott mentioned Robb’s nominating type within the Nationwide Archives additionally included a nomination for 369th Infantry Regiment Sgt. William Butler of White Plains, Maryland.
Butler rescued 5 captured American troops in August 1918 by counter-attacking a gaggle of 25 Germans, killing 4 of them, close to Maison-de-Champagne, France.
“Butler’s [Medal of Honor] nomination was downgraded to a Distinguished Service Cross. George Robb is Caucasian. Mr. Butler is an African American,” Westcott mentioned.
New York College historical past professor Jeffrey Sammons found the Robb-Butler nominating type a number of years in the past whereas researching the Harlem Hellfighters, serving to immediate the Valor Medals Evaluate Venture.
Butler is now one of many 214 WWI troops up for assessment.
“America has a sacred bond with those that swore to defend her, and there’s no extra highly effective manifestation of that covenant than the Medal of Honor,” the Valor Medals Evaluate Venture web site says.
“The gravity of those awards means their rarity have to be jealously safeguarded; they’ll by no means be allowed to be diluted within the title of creating a political level,” the web site says.
“Each hero from the Nice Conflict whose deeds warrant the award receives it, whatever the circumstances of their delivery or the colour of pores and skin.”