When he was 20 years old, Private Henry Svehla charged an enemy position during a battle June 12, 1952, near Pyongony, Korea. The young rifleman “inflicted heavy casualties,” according to a narrative prepared by the Army, but didn’t emerge unscathed: a mortar round detonated nearby, causing serious wounds.
Svehla, however, kept leading the charge anyway, until he was killed when he threw himself on a grenade that had landed near his comrades.
Svehla, who was born in Newark and lived in Belleville, was recognized at the time for his bravery during the Korean War, earning a posthumous Distinguished Service Cross.
But after years of advocacy by family members and elected officials, including Rep. Bill Pascrell (D-Paterson), officials reviewed the events from that day and decided Svehla’s courage merited the military’s highest award for valor, the Medal of Honor. Members of Svehla’s family accepted the medal at a White House ceremony in 2011.
And now comes one more honor: the post office in his hometown has been renamed for him.
During a ceremony Monday, a plaque dedicating the building to Svehla was unveiled in its lobby as Svehla’s nephew Anthony looked on, along with lawmakers including Pascrell, Rep. Albio Sires, U.S. Sen. Robert Menendez, Mayor Michael Melham and state Senator Theresa Ruiz, as well as several USPS officials.
“Every time people walk through the doors of the Private Henry Svehla Post Office Building, they will walk through a living monument to a great American who grew up right here in Belleville and believed in our greatest values, a young man who went to war so that others might be free and, who in the midst of battle, gave his own life so that others might live,” Menendez said. “May God Bless America and the life of Henry Svehla.”
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