As the nation prepared to celebrate Memorial Day, the White House recently honored 11 citizens who are committed to helping veterans, including an African American who founded an organization to assist unemployed, disabled and homeless vets.

In a ceremony May 24, the White House Office of Public Engagement honored the citizens as “Champions of Change.” Five of the honorees served in the military. In a statement, Rosye Cloud, the White House director of Veterans, Wounded Warrior and Military Family Policy, said the veterans “represent some of the best of their generation, those who served with dedication and courage.”

“These American patriots continue to serve in their communities today, improving the lives of their fellow veterans and military families,” Cloud wrote. “As we mark the 50th anniversary of the Vietnam War, we are reminded of their unwavering commitment to their country yesterday, today and tomorrow.”

Among the vets honored was Stephen Sherman, 91, one of the few surviving Black World War II veterans. Sherman, who was drafted into the U.S. Army in 1942, founded the Dorie Miller Memorial Foundation, named for the Black U.S. Navy mess attendant who performed valiantly aboard the USS West Virginia when the Japanese attacked Pearl Harbor in 1941.

The ceremony included two panel discussions–one about veterans’ health. Among the Black panelists were Sherman, Richard S. Kornegay, commander and regional director of the National Association of Black Veterans and T.J. Breeden, chairman of eMerging Entrepreneurs, Inc., a North Carolina non-profit that provides business training to military and minority communities.

The Champions of Change program is part of President Obama’s Winning the Future initiative, according to the release. Each week, the program recognizes outstanding citizens as Champions of Change.

At the event, Sherman spotlighted Miller, who was among the missing and presumed dead when the USS Liscome Bay, a carrier escort to which he had been assigned following the Pearl Harbor assault, was attacked by a Japanese submarine and sunk in the Pacific in 1943. He said he met Miller before his presumed death during basic training at California’s Camp Stoneman. For years, he has lobbied to have Miller recognized with the Congressional Medal of Honor.

Miller was awarded the Navy Cross, “a high honor for a Black man in the [19]40s,” Sherman said, but short of the recognition for which he is lobbying.

“Dorie Miller was a Pearl Harbor hero,” said Sherman. He added, “I’ve been trying for 15 years and four presidents to get the Medal of Honor.”

Jessika Morgan

AFRO Staff Writer