On Thursday, Sgt. Alwyn Cashe was among three soldiers President Joe Biden awarded the prestigious Medal of Honor for putting their lives on the line “above and beyond the call of duty” during the Afghanistan and Iraq wars.
According to ABC News, the Medal of Honor is the highest military award for valor in the United States. The posthumous award bestowed on Cashe makes him the first Black Medal of Honor recipient since the September 11 attacks.
“Today, we honor three outstanding soldiers, whose actions embody the highest ideals of selfless service,” Biden said during the ceremony. “We also remember the high price our military members and their families are willing to pay on behalf of our nation.”
“We remember the strength and the sacrifices of these military families, caregivers and survivors,” the president continued. “And we remember and renew our sacred obligation to those who served this nation in uniform.”
Cashe passed away in November 2005 after succumbing to severe burn injuries he sustained while rescuing fellow soldiers who were trapped inside a vehicle after a roadside bomb exploded next to his fighting vehicle while on patrol in Samarra, Iraq, on October 17 that same year, Face2Face Africa reported.
Cashe, 35, wasn’t initially hurt by the explosion, but he suffered second and third-degree burns on over 70 percent of his body while he was rescuing the trapped soldiers. The Florida native, who served in the first Gulf War and two subsequent tours in Iraq, died at the Brooke Army Medical Center in San Antonio, Texas. Even on his deathbed, those who were with him said he never stopped asking about his fellow soldiers, four of whom ultimately died at the Texas hospital from the burns suffered from the explosion.
Cashe’s widow, Tamara Cashe, attended Thursday’s ceremony at the White House, and she accepted the posthumous award on the fallen soldier’s behalf. In an interview with ABC News on Wednesday, Cashe’s sister, Kasinal Cashe-White, described her brother as a “very rambunctious,” a “daredevil” and “a good kid all around.”
She also said the award bestowed on her brother “means everything” to their family. “We lost our brother. He can’t be replaced. But this award means that his name his legacy will go down in history,” Kasinal added.
Cashe was posthumously awarded the Silver Star for his rescue attempts even while being shot at. Witnesses said that in spite of the pain from the heat that burned his uniform and body armor off him, Cashe repeatedly entered the burning vehicle to save his men, Face2Face Africa reported.
Battalion commander, then-Col. Gary M. Brito, who recommended the Silver Star medal, would later learn of these specific details of Cashe’s actions. He then launched a campaign to have his Silver Star upgraded to the Medal of Honor. Kasinal said Brito and the 3rd Infantry Division had since been with them “every step of the way.”
Asked if she felt race played a factor with regards to the delay in awarding her brother the honor, Kasinal said, “I don’t think so. I think it was just a matter of timing.”
“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,” she added.
The vehicle that caught fire during the attack was being commanded by Cashe at the time, the White House said. He suffered severe burn injuries while he was trying to put out the fire and rescue his fellow officers. His severe injuries, however, did not deter him from approaching the vehicle multiple times. He also helped four soldiers get to safety while they were being shot at.
“He went back into the inferno for a third time and got everyone out of that inferno,” Biden said at the ceremony. “That was his code; his love for his Third Infantry Division ran deep. No soldier was going to be left behind on his watch.”
Besides Cashe, Sgt. 1st Class Christopher Celiz also received a posthumous honor for his heroics during a firefight in Afghanistan in 2018. Master Sgt. Earl Plumlee was also honored for fighting off Taliban suicide bombers in Afghanistan in 2013, the White House said.