By John Ikani
US President Joe Biden has bestowed the nation’s highest military award on Army Sergeant Alwyn Cashe, the first black serviceman to receive the decoration since the Vietnam War.
Sgt Cashe died after a roadside bomb detonated under the Bradley Fighting Vehicle he was commanding in October 2005, igniting its fuel tank.
The 35-year-old while on fire and exposed to enemy gunfire as he was serving in Iraq, pulled several soldiers and an interpreter from the burning vehicle that was hit by an improvised explosive device.
“Flames that are just spewing out of every port out of the Bradley vehicle,” said Lieutenant Colonel Leon Matthias, who was there. “Cashe kept going in and out of the Bradley trying to pull his comrades out one by one. It was an intense inferno.”
He died as a result of his wounds in 2005.
Honor delayed, but no longer denied
Cashe was awarded a Silver Star for his heroism but his comrades and family members never relented in advocating for his Silver Star medal to be upgraded.
Former President Donald Trump was going to award the Medal of Honor to Sgt Cashe before he left the White House in January, but that plan was scuppered amid safety concerns after Trump supporters rioted at the US Capitol.
Cashe, Biden said, is the seventh service member to receive the Medal of Honor from Operation Iraqi Freedom and the first African American to receive the medal since the Vietnam War.
“A soldier’s soldier, a warrior who literally walked through fire for his troops,” he said, as Sgt Cashe’s wife and children looked on from the audience.
Mr Biden also gave the Medal of Honor to Green Beret Sgt Earl Plumlee, 41, for his role in repelling an attack on his base in Afghanistan’s Ghazni province in 2013.
After insurgents exploded a truck bomb outside his military post, creating a breach for suicide bombers and rifle-wielding attackers to pour in, he and other troops mounted a defence of their wounded troops by driving into enemy fire.
“Without cover and with complete disregard for his own safety, he advanced on the superior enemy force engaging multiple insurgents with only his pistol,” according to the White House memo outlining his gallantry.
Sgt Plumlee was thrown off his feet by multiple suicide bomb blasts, but suffered only light injuries.
Plumlee, the only living Medal of Honor recipient for Thursday’s ceremony, was quoted by the Washington Post as saying “I still don’t know why they weren’t able to hit me.”
Army Ranger Sgt Christopher Celiz was honored for his actions in Afghanistan in 2018.
While clearing an area of enemy forces, the unit Celiz led came under enemy fire.
He exposed himself to enemy fire more than once, including when he used his body as a shield for an injured person he loaded into a medical evacuation helicopter and guarded it as it took off without him. As he faced gunshots, he waved the aircraft off, telling them to leave without him.
Celiz died of his injuries on a later evacuation flight.
Biden called Celiz “courage made flesh.”