Puerto Rican naval officer of both World Wars might receive a delayed upgrade to MoH

| May 10, 2022 | 7 Comments

Rear Admiral Frederick Riefkohl

There’s been a lot of revisiting past bravery awards over the past 30 or so years. This has generally been to right the wrongs of history in regards to past racism, but not always. Rear Admiral Frederick Riefkohl of the US Navy is one of 214 in the latest round of awards that are being looked at for an upgrade.

From Military Times;

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.

There’s more at the source. His Navy Cross from WWI, reads thusly;

The Navy Cross is awarded to Lieutenant Frederick L. Riefkohl, U.S. Navy, for distinguished service in the line of his profession as Commander of the Armed Guard of the U.S.S. Philadelphia, and in an engagement with an enemy submarine. On August 2, 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.

I’ve read a lot of award citations. The lack of detail isn’t entirely without precedent. Particularly during the Great War and before, they were very succinct to the point of being terse. Many Navy officers received Navy Crosses for similar actions during WWI. I don’t see anything here that says racism played a role in it. His award seems commensurate with awards given to his white contemporaries.

Category: Historical, Navy, We Remember

guest
7 Comments
Inline Feedbacks
View all comments
5JC

“Enemy contact, not much happened” not sure how that merits a MOH.

Old tanker

Citation basically reads, sighted enemy sub, we both fired and missed, Sub went away. Hardly MOH material there.

The Stranger

I dunno, he looks pretty white to me…apparently he was of German/Swiss origin on his father’s side (his paternal grandfather was German and grandmother was Swiss). I mean seriously, his last name was Riefkohl! There’s a decent sized population of people of European descent in Puerto Rico. I’ve run into folks with French and German surnames from the island so it’s not that unusual.

David

Not every PR is swarthy. My SIL can throw a shadow if he takes his short off.

I know being terse was a virtue, but a MoH for “we were shot at, we shot back, he went away” sounds a bit extreme. No casualties or damage reported? No hours of cat and mouse? Maybe the omitted details flesh it out.

The Stranger

Honestly, he probably got more grief for having a German surname than being from Puerto Rico.

KoB

Don’t see it. Missing something? Don’t even see a Navy Cross for lobbing a round out that missed. Sure don’t see any RAAAAYYYSSSSIISSISM, but then again, isn’t RAAAYYYYYSSSSIISSISM hiding behind everything? I served with a number of Puerto Rican Soldiers. The ones from Puerto Rico were good troops. The ones from Joirsey or Noo Yawk…not so much. “The Southerners fighting blood…” ?!? Never thought of Puerto Rico as being a part of the South, tho many a Southern Blockade Runner and Privateer put in there for provisioning and such. And Puerto Ricans served as crew members.

Who knows? Many a MoH were “awarded” for the simple act of picking up an Orphaned Battle Flag. So why not “Award” one for firing at and missing an enemy warship…or…reasons?

The Stranger

Yeah, I hear you, KOB. But remember, that orphaned battle flag thing typically happened during the Civil War when the only award for gallantry was the MOH. Hell, Leonard Wood received a MOH for carrying dispatches across Apache territory and commanding a detachment of cavalry during that time frame. Don’t get me wrong, riding across 100 miles of Apache land is no minor thing, but would something like that merit a MOH today? He definitely showed courage and leadership later in his career during the Spanish-American War and in the Philippines and ended up as Chief of Staff and but for some back room politicking during the Republican convention, he could have been elected President in 1920.