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Army Sgt. Finally Receives Medal of Honor 16 Yrs After He Died Saving Troops from Burning Vehicle

On October 17, 2005, Sgt. 1st Class Alwyn Cashe walked through fire multiple times to save his soldiers who were trapped in a burning Infantry Fighting Vehicle (IFV) in Iraq. On December 16, 2021, over sixteen years later, he was awarded the Medal of Honor by President Joe Biden.

Sgt. Cashe died 16 years ago after suffering fatal injuries while rescuing fellow soldiers from the burning vehicle during Operation Iraqi Freedom in the Salah Ad Din Province.

While under enemy fire, Cashe helped six soldiers and one Iraqi interpreter get to safety after a roadside bomb detonated under the Bradley Fighting Vehicle he was commanding. The explosion severed the cargo hatch opening mechanism, trapping the soldiers in the back of the vehicle inside and ignited the fuel tank, engulfing the vehicle in flames. The driver, Spc. Darren Howe, was knocked unconscious and unable to release the hatch.

Maj. Leon Matthias, who was in the vehicle behind Cashe’s, said he saw Cashe and another soldier immediately jump out of their vehicle. Initially, Cashe was only slightly injured but he and the other soldiers, were drenched with fuel. Cashe pulled Howe out of the driver’s hatch and then immediately ran to the back of the burning vehicle to help the remaining men inside.

Inside the burning vehicle, soldiers were screaming and attempting to get out. Unable to open the damaged back hatch from the inside there seemed to be no escape. 

“That’s when I saw Sgt. Cashe at the back of the Bradley,” Sgt. 1st Class Douglas Dodge, one of the soldiers inside the vehicle, remembers. “And I looked at him and it was very surreal: He had his helmet on, his body armor on, and his boots on, but he didn’t have anything else on because it had been burned off of him. The only thing he asked me was, ‘Where are the boys at?’ I just kind of looked at him and looked at the Bradley, and he said, ‘We’ve got to get the boys out.’ And he just instantly started climbing in.” 

Despite the fact that he was on fire himself, Cashe started pulling his soldiers out, one by one. Cashe went back “over and over again,” Matthias said. 

By the time Cashe had pulled all seven men out of the vehicle, 72% of his body was covered in third and second degree burns. When two helicopters arrived to evacuate the wounded, despite his own injuries, 2nd Squad Team Gary Mills said Cashe wouldn’t stop asking how everyone else was.

And when it was time for him to be loaded onto the helicopter, Cashe refused to be carried. He wanted to walk off the battlefield. 

He died just weeks after sustaining major injuries that day.

Cashe was initially awarded the Silver Star, the Army’s third-highest honor for valor in combat, for his bravery on that day. His battalion commander, Lt. Gen. Gary Brito, and other officers advocated for years that Cashe deserved to be upgraded for the Medal of Honor. 

On Dec 16, Cashe became the first Black soldier to receive the award since the Vietnam War. President Joe Biden presented the award to Cashe and two other U.S. soldiers for risking their lives “above and beyond the call of duty” during the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq.

Cashe’s sister Kasinal Cashe-White told ABC News in an interview that receiving the Medal of Honor “means everything” to the family.

“This award means that his name, his legacy will go down in history. It means that every soldier is going to know his story,” she said.

When asked whether she thought race was a factor at all when it came to the delay, she said, “I don’t think so. I think it was just a matter of timing,” adding, “Did I want it in 2005? Yes. Would I have been happy in 2007? Yes. Would I have been ecstatic if it happened before now? Yes. But I am just over exhilarated that it’s happening now.”

When asked how she feels about Cashe being the first Black soldier to receive the highest award for valor for service during the war on terror, Cashe-White said her brother “earned” the honor through his actions.

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