PARKVILLE, Mo. — An effort to honor World War I soldiers denied the Medal of Honor, possibly because of their race, is being coordinated by a small team of researchers at Park University.
The project is part of two bipartisan congressional bills that, if approved, would lead to a Department of Defense review of distinguished veterans who may have been denied the highest military honor due to the color of their skin.
“Our task is to make sure we do this right,” associate professor and team leader Tim Westcott said. “We’re only going to get one chance at this.”
Westcott, along with three other Park students, have been going through records dating back 100 years for the project; from maps and soldier information to weather reports and witness accounts from the time.
“Under current legislation, to recommend a person for the Medal of Honor, you have to have the latitude, the longitude, the weather,” Westcott said. “It’s very time-consuming but it’s very rewarding because we get to tell the story of a human being.”
Westcott’s team has been conducting their research inside a tiny room on campus inside the George S. Robb Centre for the Study of the Great War, named after the man who led an all-black regiment called the “Harlem Hellfighters” during the war.
The review will focus on minority soldiers, including Hispanic-American and Jewish-American members, who received a Distinguished Service Cross or were at least recommended for a Medal of Honor or the French Croix de Guerre with palm.
For freshman Joshua Weston, who also served in the military, being a part of the project is a special honor.
“Nobody knows what these soldiers went through. They don’t understand the things that they were subjected to,” he said. “It’s incredible to see these soldiers, even though they had all this going against them, they still managed to fight through it.”
After helping to go through the records, Weston told 41 Action News that the accounts describe heroic deeds in the face of war.
“I don’t know how these men got the strength to do what they did,” he said. “This is the height of racism before the civil rights movement came in yet they’re fighting for a country that takes them for granted.”
If the bills are approved, Westcott said the project could take five to seven years to complete.
However, the team hopes to eventually contact descendants of the soldiers to notify them of the possible honor.
“It’s nice being part of the project that gives them the justification that they deserve,” Weston said.
The congressional bills connected to the project are currently in committee.