More than 16 years after Sgt. 1st Class Alwyn Cashe reached into a burning Bradley Fighting Vehicle six times to rescue those trapped inside, President Joe Biden presented his widow Tamara the Medal of Honor. She accepted the award on his behalf.
“Alwyn Cashe was a soldier’s soldier. A warrior who literally walked through fire for his troops,” Biden said at the Dec. 16 White House ceremony.
The vehicle was hit by an IED on Oct. 17, 2005 in Iraq and caught on fire. Cashe’s uniform, drenched in fuel, melted away as he rescued the soldiers inside.
He died in a Texas burn center weeks later on Nov. 8, 2005 at the age of 35 after suffering burns that covered 72 percent of his body. He was presented the Purple Heart and Silver Star before he died.
Some are questioning why it took so long for Cashe to be honored for his heroic actions.
“This is probably the clearest-cut case of a Medal of Honor action that I’ve ever seen,” Douglas Sterner, a Vietnam veteran, told The Washington Post. Sterner, a historian, has studied military awards for decades.
Cashe is the first Black service member awarded the Medal of Honor since 9/11. An army investigation into whether Cash should be awarded the honor for his actions lasted for years.
“The sergeant extracted himself and without hesitation turned back to the vehicle to help free the driver and extinguish the flames on the driver,” Biden said at the ceremony. “In the process, Sgt. First Class Cashe’s uniform drenched in fuel caught fire causing severe burns. Patrol was still staking fire, but Cashe thought only of his fellow soldiers trapped in the troop compartment.”
Two other soldiers, Sgt. 1st Class Christopher Celiz, an Army Ranger assigned to 75th Ranger Regiment, 1st Battalion in Savannah and Master Sgt. Earl Plumlee, were also awarded the medal posthumously last week.
A service member must typically be nominated for the honor with five years of their heroic action. But Congress passed a waiver last year allowing Cash to receive the medal. The waiver was prompted by Defense Secretary Mark T. Esper, an Army veteran, who wrote in a letter to lawmakers arguing that Cashe’s actions deserved teh honor despite the lapse in time.
As a child, Cashe, the youngest of three children, lived in a three-bedroom home in Florida. His father died when he was 5 years old.
Cashe’s sister Kasinal Cashe White said she’s thankful Cashe’s family and friends advocated for years for his Silver Star medal to be upgraded.
“He earned this,” White said. “And, OK, he’s Black. Yes, he is. He’s just as dark as my daddy. But he just happened to be a Black soldier who did what he did. He did what he did out of love for his men, and respect for his men.”
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