This Day in History: Pfc. Leonard M. Kravitz faces a banzai charge

During this week in 1951, a soldier engages in an action that would initially earn him the Distinguished Service Cross. Many decades later, a congressional review would determine that he should have been awarded the Medal of Honor—and would have been, but for his Jewish heritage.

Another fact that will make this Medal recipient memorable? Rock musician Lenny Kravitz is his namesake. The Grammy award-winning artist was named for his uncle, Private First Class Leonard M. Kravitz.

No one saw the final moments of Pfc. Kravitz’s life. He was found dead in a fox hole, surrounded by many dead enemy soldiers. Pfc. Kravitz had only 6 bullets left in his machine gun. He’d used almost all of his ammunition before he was killed.

The young soldier’s bravery occurred during an action at Yangpyong, Korea. His unit had been in a defensive position, only to be overrun when the enemy launched an attack that was later described as a “fanatical banzai charge.” The American soldiers were forced to withdraw, but Pfc. Kravitz volunteered to stay behind. He seized a machine gun to provide cover for his retreating comrades.

By some reports, Pfc. Kravitz was last heard shouting to his fellow soldiers: “Get the hell out of here while you can!”

His citation describes the scene that follows, but it sounds a little made up. Don’t such fierce defenses happen only in movies!?!

Pfc. Kravitz “poured devastating fire into the ranks of the onrushing assailants.” He “swept the hostile soldiers with deadly, accurate fire, killing the entire group.” He was so effective that the enemy was forced to concentrate all their fire on his position. Pfc. Kravitz simply couldn’t—and wouldn’t—be ignored. And while the enemy was trying to take out the lone, brave soldier, the rest of Pfc. Kravitz’s unit safely withdrew.

When friendly troops were finally able to return to the area later, they found Pfc. Kravitz lying dead in his fox hole. He was near his machine gun, surrounded by many dead enemy, including two that were in the fox hole with him.

He must have put up one heck of a fight! In the end, he saved his entire unit. But he was unable to save himself.

Pfc. Kravitz was initially awarded the Distinguished Service Cross, but one of his old childhood friends soon embarked on a campaign to have the award upgraded. Finally, after many decades of work—and even a little congressional intervention—the award was upgraded to a Medal of Honor. In 2014, Pfc. Kravitz’s niece and nephew were at the ceremony.

“[H]e died that way, he made the choice to stay and to deal with the situation,” Lenny Kravitz said at the time. “As sad as it is, it was a beautiful action, and the fact that he is now going to get this honor just makes it end properly.”

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