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Svehla honored at AC ceremony
Story and photo by Mark C. Olsen, New Jersey Department of Military and Veterans Affairs
Alongside the names of Hospital Corpsman 3rd Class Edward C. Benfold, Sgt. 1st Class Nelson V. Brittin, Pvt. Hector A. Cafferata, Jr. and 1st Lt. Samuel S. Coursen, a new name has been added to the list.
Pfc. Henry Svehla. His portrait has joined the other four New Jersey Medal of Honor recipients on a bronze relief sculpture that stands opposite the wall that lists all the New Jerseyans who died during the Korean War.
The road to awarding the medal was a long one. Nephew Anthony Svehla began doing research on the internet which led him to get in contact with Rep. William James "Bill" Pascrell, Jr. (D- 9th dist.) in 2001 to begin working on the award.
Born in Newark, Svehla grew up in Belleville and enlisted in the Army in November 1951 where he served as a rifleman.
Virtually no documentation existed of the details surrounding Svehla's death, which meant finding and interviewing people who were there. Anthony began by tracking down people in his uncle's unit - the 7th Infantry Division. Eventually, he was able to get in touch with Soldiers who had been in the same battalion and company who were there the day Henry Svehla was killed.
After ten years of submitting records, Anthony received a call from the Pentagon saying that his uncle would be awarded the Medal of Honor.
In 1953, a comic book was written illustrating Pfc. Svehla's actions. The story was titled "Gave his life to save lives". (Image courtesy The Pentagon Channel Blog)
President Barack Obama presented the Medal of Honor to the family on May 2, 2011. During the ceremony, Obama stated: "He was there for America, in Korea."
The citation, which accompanies the award, finally sheds light on Svehla's courage and death.
"On the afternoon of June 12, 1952, while Svehla and his platoon were patrolling a strategic hill to determine enemy strength and positions, they were subjected to intense enemy automatic weapons and small arms fire at the top of the hill. Coming under heavy fire, the platoon's attack began to falter. Realizing the success of mission and the safety of the remaining troops were in peril, Svehla leapt to his feet and charged the enemy positions, firing his weapon and throwing grenades as he advanced. In the face of this courage and determination, the platoon rallied to attack with renewed vigor. Svehla, utterly disregarding his own safety, destroyed enemy positions and inflicted heavy casualties, when suddenly, fragments from a mortar round exploding nearby seriously wounded him in the face.
Despite his wounds, Svehla refused medical treatment and continued to lead the attack. When an enemy grenade landed among a group of his comrades, Svehla, without hesitation and undoubtedly aware of extreme danger, threw himself upon the grenade. During this action, Svehla was mortally wounded."
His body was never recovered.
During the Korean War, 137 Medals of Honor were presented, 98 posthumously. Of the five New Jersey recipients, Benfold, Brittin, Coursen and Svehla died in action.
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