Mitchel Libman has spent years soaking up information about how his childhood friend died in the Korean War, and he has come to two conclusions.
First, what Leonard Kravitz did in the war deserves the Congressional Medal of Honor.
Second, the only reason Kravitz was denied the medal was because he was Jewish.
“There’s nothing else it could possibly have been,” said Libman, 70, a Korean War veteran himself. “I have searched my mind for years now.”
Only 13 Jews are among the 3,400 men and one woman who have received the Medal of Honor, the military’s highest award for bravery.
More than 500 Jewish men received the Distinguished Service Cross, Navy Cross and Air Force Cross, the second level award, according to the National Museum of American Jewish Military History in Washington.
But that may change.
Last week, Congress passed a bill requiring Pentagon officials to review the cases of Jewish servicemen who received other rewards for bravery to see if they are eligible for the Medal of Honor.
The bill, tacked onto the Defense Department’s yearly appropriations legislation, was originally named the “Leonard Kravitz Jewish War Veterans Act.”
Leonard Kravitz, the uncle and namesake of rock musician Lenny Kravitz, is one of three Jewish servicemen expected to be reviewed by the Pentagon as soon as the president signs the appropriations measure into law.
Libman has been searching for information about Kravitz ever since he returned from service and learned his childhood friend had died.
But it was not until he began using the Internet that he got in touch with the right people and the information he needed.
According to eyewitness accounts submitted with Kravitz’s application for the Medal of Honor, Kravitz saved the lives of members of his platoon when they were attacked by Chinese soldiers in March 1951.
After obtaining the unit’s machine gun, he began firing on the Chinese as his peers retreated, protecting them with his gunfire. He ignored calls to leave with them, and attacked Chinese soldiers who attempted to cut off the retreating Americans.
When his platoon returned to the site a day later, he lay there dead, with dead Chinese soldiers surrounding him and only six bullets remaining in the gun.
His comrades believed his actions allowed many of them to escape unharmed.
“He only had about six rounds of ammo left and he was still crouched over the gun,” Richard Remery wrote in his eyewitness testimony in 1951.
“If Kravitz hadn’t stayed to cover us, we would have been wiped out, I think.”
Although Kravitz was nominated for the Medal of Honor, the award was downgraded to the Distinguished Service Cross.
Libman said he never thought that it could have been because of bias, until a friend of Kravitz told him, “They don’t give the Medal of Honor to Jews.”
“When I went through all the Medal of Honor winners, I saw people who had done things similar to what Lenny had done, and a lot of people who hadn’t done what Lenny had done,” Libman said.
Kravitz’s case was reviewed last year, but denied the Medal of Honor. Pentagon officials refused to say what aspect of the requirements Kravitz had not fulfilled, Libman said.
A Pentagon official was unavailable for comment.
Pamela Feltus, curator of the National Museum of American Jewish Military History, said that although the percentage of Jews in military service is usually slightly higher than the proportion of Jews in the national population, only 13 servicemen have received the high honor.
Four awards were given to Jews in the Civil War, two in World War II, three in World War I, two in Vietnam and one each in the Indian War and the Haitian Conflict of 1915.
“The stats just don’t work,” said Feltus, whose museum in Washington has just opened an exhibit on the 13 recipients. “A lot of people seem to think it’s a bias.”
She said she expects 1,000 people to be reviewed when the law goes into effect, and hopes at least a few will receive the Medal of Honor. She also worries about the reaction of other veterans if too many Jews get recognized.
“We don’t want it to cheapen it,” she said, referring to the honor.
Since beginning his campaign, Libman has received anecdotal information from hundreds of people about Jewish servicemen believed to be deserving of the medal.
Many of them also believe that their religion could be a factor in the decision making.
Libman, a financial adviser in Hollywood, Fla., said he is spurred on by guilt he feels from having skipped Kravitz’s going-away party before the evening he was shipped off to Korea.
“I never made that party and I never saw him again,” he said. “He was like a brother to me.”
The Archive of the Jewish Telegraphic Agency includes articles published from 1923 to 2008. Archive stories reflect the journalistic standards and practices of the time they were published.