A local woman will visit Washington D.C. next week to accept the military’s most distinguished award, the Medal of Honor, for her late father.
Chyrell Herrera, 45, is accepting the medal in honor of her father, Spc. Ardie Copas, who was killed in during the Vietnam War. He is one of 24 people who will be receiving the medal, only three of which are still living.
Herrera said “words can’t even describe” how she is feeling about going to the ceremony in the nation’s capitol and it is “something I’ve been waiting for my whole life.”
Copas only served about a year but Herrera said he quickly moved up in rank. He was awarded numerous medals for his service including the Medal for Heroism in 1970, the Purple Heart, two Silver Stars, a Bronze Star. He was awarded a Distinguished Service Cross following his death in 1971, she said.
His Medal of Honor stems from an incident in Cambodia during the Vietnam War.
On May 12, 1970 near Ph Romeas Hek, Cambodia, Copas’ company was attacked by a large hostile force firing recoilless rifles, rocket-propelled grenades and automatic weapons. Copas, a machine-gunner, began returning fire but was knocked to the ground when his armored car was hit by an enemy recoilless round. Four other Americans were wounded.
Ignoring his wounds, Copas climbed back into the burning vehicle and began firing his machine-gun at the enemy. Copas laid down suppressive fire until the four wounded were safely evacuated; he continued to fight until he was mortally wounded by an enemy round.
“I’m very proud. My family [on her father’s side] didn’t stay in contact with me, I did not know them my whole life. Everything I’ve learned about them was from my mother’s family. They would tell me a lot, it was hard for my mother to talk about.
“The medals were put away in an attic for a long, long time. Pulled back out in 1994. The first time I saw them I was in my 30s.
“I’ve talked to some of the men who were there and he saved their lives,” Herrera said. “I’m 45 years old and I’ve known my whole life that I had an extraordinary father that I never actually knew until i read those certificates.”
Seeking to correct potential acts of bias spanning three wars, President Barack Obama will award the Medal of Honor to these veterans following a congressionally mandated review to ensure that eligible recipients were not bypassed due to prejudice.
The unusual mass ceremony will honor veterans, most of Hispanic or Jewish heritage, who had already been recognized with the Distinguished Service Cross, the nation’s second highest military award.
The Army conducted the review under a directive from Congress in the 2002 National Defense Authorization Act. The law required that the record of each Jewish American and Hispanic American veteran who received a Service Cross during or after World War II be reviewed for possible upgrade to the Medal of Honor.
The Pentagon said the Army reviewed the cases of the 6,505 recipients of the Distinguished Service Cross from World War II and the Korean and Vietnam wars and found an eligible pool of 600 soldiers who may have been Jewish or Hispanic. The Army also worked with the National Museum of American Jewish Military History, the Jewish War Veterans of the USA and the American GI Forum, the largest Hispanic-American veterans group, to pinpoint potential medal recipients.
“It’s been a pretty awesome thing,” said Herrera, adding that she and her mother are leaving for Washington D.C. this Sunday. March 18 already happened to be a special day for Herrera’s mother.
“That happens to be my mother’s birthday, so I told her ‘what a special birthday present that is.’”