March 25 is National Medal of Honor Day. The Medal of Honor is the Nation’s highest military commendation and it recognizes members of the armed forces who have distinguished themselves through extraordinary bravery and valor in combat.
The first Medal of Honor dates back to the Civil War. To date, 3,530 medals have been awarded; 92 of those have gone to Black service members. On Dec. 16, 2021, after years of delay, the Medal of Honor was delivered, posthumously, to Sgt. 1st Class Alwyn C. Cashe, of the U.S. Army, for his heroic deeds during the War on Terror in Iraq. He is the 93rd Black service member to be awarded the Medal of Honor as well as the first to receive the distinguished honor for actions during the conflict in Iraq.
Cashe enlisted in the Army on July 18, 1989, as a supply specialist shortly after graduating from high school in Oveido, Florida. He served oversees in Korea and Germany, deployed in support of the Gulf War in 1991 and participated in the 2003 invasion of Iraq. Cashe served as platoon sergeant in the 3rd Brigade, 3rd Infantry Division, at Fort Benning, Georgia, in April 2004. With this team, he deployed to Iraq as part of the War on Terror in 2005.
During this deployment, on Oct. 17, 2005, near Samarra, Iraq, Cashe and his fellow troops were conducting a nighttime patrol when their Bradley Fighting Vehicle was struck by an improvised explosive device (IED). Cashe was the first to exit the vehicle; however, he returned with a fellow soldier to extract the driver. At that point, soaked in fuel from the explosion, Cashe caught fire and sustained burns covering nearly 72% of his body. Nonetheless, he continued to the rear of the vehicle to help the soldiers trapped in the troop compartment.
While other troops engaged the enemy, Cashe persevered and entered the burning vehicle again to retrieve the soldiers who were unaccounted for. He entered the burning vehicle at least six times to save his teammates and fellow soldiers, as well as an Iraqi interpreter. He refused to leave anyone behind and, while severely injured himself, selflessly refused to board the helicopter ahead of the other injured soldiers.
Alwyn C. Cashe ultimately succumbed to his wounds on Nov. 8, 2005, at Brooke Army Medical Center in San Antonio, Texas, but not without knowing that his actions that day saved the lives of many.
His heroism, unwavering devotion, and sacrifice went above and beyond the call of duty. His courage is something no one should forget.
During an interview, Cashe’s sister, Kasinal White, agreed. “He earned this,” she said, adding that “He did what he did out of love for his men, and respect for his men.”
Cashe’s selflessness and dedication to the United States will be forever remembered, as his picture hangs in the Pentagon’s Hall of Heroes, immortalized not only as a soldier who put his dedication to his country and service above his own life, but also as the first Black American to be awarded the Medal of Honor since Vietnam.