Puerto Rican WWI Navy hero from Merritt Island, FL may get Medal of Honor 52 years after death
By Rick Neale
via the Florida Today web site
Frederick Riefkohl was the first Puerto Rican to graduate from the U.S. Naval Academy. A World War I hero who led a successful showdown with a German submarine. And a World War II ship commander who retired as a rear admiral — he even has his own Wikipedia page.
But Riefkohl did not receive the Medal of Honor, America's highest award for valor in combat, to commemorate his WWI gallantry.
Why? The former Merritt Island resident may have been unfairly discriminated against by military brass because of his island heritage, a team of Great War researchers says.
Riefkohl is one of 214 WWI minority veterans identified thus far by the Valor Medals Review Project, a Congress-authorized study spearheaded by Park University near Kansas City, Missouri.
Park University officials say this is the first such systematic review of minority veterans of the Great War. Research will continue until 2025, when documentation supporting Medal of Honor nominations will be forwarded to the Department of Defense for possible action, including posthumous awards.
Riefkohl was 'an American patriot'
Riefkohl is the lone Puerto Rican on the list of 214 troops, said Timothy Westcott, director of the private university's George S. Robb Centre for the Study of the Great War.
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, and then a torpedo passed under the stern of the ship. A shot was fired, which struck close to the submarine, which then disappeared," Riefkohl's Navy Cross citation said.
Few additional details on the WWI incident have been unearthed from the historical record, said Ashlyn Weber, Robb Centre associate director. The Valor Medals Review Project has identified this as a potential Medal of Honor-worthy action.
Read the entire article on the Florida Today web site.
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