On August 19th, 2012, Alwyn Cashe, a Staff Sergeant in the United States Army, was killed in action, in a heroic action against enemy forces in Afghanistan. It was his second deployment to Afghanistan and his third combat deployment since September of 2009. Alwyn is the recipient of the Medal of Honor, the highest military award that can be presented to a member of the United States armed forces for extraordinary heroism above and beyond the call of duty in action against an enemy of the U.S. while engaged in military operations involving conflict with an opposing foreign force.
In November of 2011, Staff Sergeant Alwyn Cashe was awarded the Medal of Honor for his heroic actions during the battle of Sangin in Afghanistan. Cashe was leading a team of soldiers in a daring rescue mission when his unit was ambushed by the Taliban. Swarmed by enemy fighters, he fought his way through the heavy fire to reach a fellow soldier who was trapped under an overturned Humvee.
This is a response to a recent sentenc from a reader of “nowandpast” who proclaimed his hatred for SFC “Alwyn Cashe”, who is mentioned in this article. The reader blames the soldier for causing the death of his son. As someone who has met SFC Alwyn Cashe, I can attest to his being a truly extraordinary man, a man who has sacrificed his life so that others can live theirs. In this article, I hope to show that SFC Alwyn Cashe should be honored for his sacrifice.
On October 17, 2005, near Samarra, Iraq, an IED detonated beneath a Bradley Fighting Vehicle dubbed Alpha 13, burning its fuel cell and spraying petrol on the men’s clothes and bodies. In the gunner’s hatch was Sergeant 1st Class Alwyn “Al” Cashe of Sanford, Florida. He led the men in the Bradley to safety and then made three excursions back into the flaming BFV to rescue six soldiers and an interpreter while under enemy fire. Only his helmet, body armor, and boots remained after his fuel-soaked outfit had burned away. He refused to be evacuated until all of his soldiers had been medevaced, despite having serious burns covering up to 90% of his body. On November 8, 2005, he passed away at the San Antonio Military Hospital in Texas.
Sergeant Cashe received the Silver Star, the Army’s third-highest honor, for his conduct that day. However, after further investigation, Brigadier General Gary Brito, the commander who recommended him for the Silver Star, found that the sergeant should have been recommended for the Medal of Honor, America’s highest military honor. Medal of Honor recipients have been few in the War on Terror; critics argue that the criteria for awarding the medal reflect a World War II mentality that needs to be updated to reflect the reality of 21st-century asymmetrical combat. SPC Alwyn Cashe is one of ten veterans of the Iraq and Afghanistan wars who won lesser decorations, but when their records of deeds are compared to those of previous Medal of Distinction recipients, it appears they should have received the highest honor; SPC Alwyn Cashe is one of the ten.
His narrative inspired Harry Conner, a Cold War veteran, to launch a campaign to promote public awareness of Cashe’s unselfish heroics and support Brigadier General Brito’s attempts to elevate the sergeant’s Silver Star to a Medal of Honor. Conner was interviewed by HistoryNet on December 11, 2014.
HistoryNet: Isn’t it true that you’re a veteran as well? When did you start serving?
Harry Conner: From 1972 to 1980, I served in the United States Army. I started out with the 101st Airborne but ended up in the Third Infantry in Germany. I was with the 1/10th artillery, but I was a liaison NCO with the 1/15th, where Al later served. Before leaving the military, I worked as a drill sergeant.
I left my job at the end of March to focus solely on promoting his story. His gravesite in Sanford, Florida (near Orlando) is roughly 10 miles from where I currently reside. When I went on the two bike rides I did to publicize his tale, I started from his resting place.
HN: Over the last few years, there have been various news reports lamenting the scarcity of Medal of Honor honorees in our twenty-first-century wars. What about Alwyn Cashe’s tale compelled you to become involved?
Harry Conner: I was getting coffee in a store one Saturday when I noticed an article about his deeds and the push to have him awarded the Medal of Honor in the Orlando Sentinel. There was a connection because he served in the Third Infantry and was a drill sergeant. I was technically retired at the time, so I went home that day and contacted Darryl Owens, the writer of the Sentinel piece. He gave Al’s sister Kasinal Cashe White my contact information; she called me, and I’ve been working on it ever since. In the winter of 2011–2012, I went to see Congresswoman Sandi Adams with Al’s sister Bernadine, and it was probably the next Saturday that I spoke with General Brito.
The first issue was that Sergeant Cashe’s acts had occurred more than two years ago. Recommendations for awards have a two-year time limit in the Army. Because obtaining a waiver necessitates Congressional permission, we were in a chicken-or-the-egg situation: the Army stated it couldn’t contemplate awarding him the Medal of Honor because the time limit had passed, and they’d need Congressional consent to waive it. Representatives from Congress stated that if the Army decided to grant him the medal, they would approve the waiver.
Representatives John Mica and Corrine Brown in Congress have stated that they will support suspending the two-year limit, therefore the deadline is no longer an issue.
HN: What have been some of the Army’s queries about this case?
Harry Conner: I’m Harry Conner. Since World War II, the requirements for awarding the Medal of Honor have remained unchanged. It is predicated on confronting hostile forces; it may not necessarily represent the circumstances of the War on Terror. Small weapons fire was one of the stumbling blocks. The person must have “engaged in a hostile action with an enemy force of the United States” as part of the existing conditions. When the Bradley rolled over the IED, was it remotely detonated or pressure-detonated? Is there evidence of small-arms fire? Those are a few of the inquiries.
Small-arms fire was exchanged. The Bradley behind Al’s returned fire on the militants; its men dismounted and engaged the attackers. Between 10 and 15 rebels were apprehended and handed over to higher-ups. After then, I’m not sure what happened to them.
When the average person thinks about Medal of Honor honorees, he imagines a soldier mowing down the enemy. When Al stepped out of the Bradley, I don’t suppose he had his weapon with him. He was just concerned with saving his guys. But he went above and beyond any reasonable expectation of what he needed to do that day.
HN: How have you been bringing this case to the public’s attention?
Harry Conner has ridden over 1,700 miles to raise awareness of Alwyn Cashe’s bravery in Iraq. To enlarge, click on the image.
Harry Conner: Last April—I believe it was the 28th—I embarked on a 1,204-mile bicycle trip from Al’s final resting place to the 9/11 Memorial in New York. I rode 554 miles from his resting place to Fort Benning, then to Fort Stewart, where the 3rd Infantry Division is stationed. (Both locations are in Georgia; infantry are trained to drive and maneuver Bradley vehicles like the one Sergeant Cashe was in at the time of the incident at Fort Benning.)
The bike rides were not about me; they were designed to raise awareness for Sergeant Cashe’s story, which they did. Brigadier General Gary Brito is the driving force behind the push to have him given the Medal of Honor. The Medal of Honor is subjected to the same military review process as other honors, but the process is even more rigorous when it comes to the Medal of Honor. It is our country’s highest military distinction; you may even call it “holy.”
Witnesses have testified to General Brito. He has a copy of Al’s death certificate from the hospital where he died. He has all of the appropriate documents. In fact, until the Army contacts him with additional questions, he just sent the final report to the Army Awards branch last Monday (December 8, 2014). Sergeant Cashe’s Silver Star can be kept with no recommendation to upgrade it; it can be upgraded to the Distinguished Service Cross (the Army’s second-highest award); or it can be upgraded to the Medal of Honor.
HN: Tell us a little bit about your Alwyn Cashe Facebook page.
Harry Conner: I’m Harry Conner. I believe we now have 4,800 members. Our crew is laser-focused on a single goal. There are two reasons why we exist. First and foremost, we will do everything possible to assist General Brito in obtaining the Medal of Honor for Alwyn Cashe. Second, we wish to raise awareness regarding Sergeant Cashe’s actions on October 17, 2005. The further we get from 9/11, and as the war in Afghanistan draws to a close, the less people will understand or respect the War on Terror, or the sacrifices made by heroes like Sergeant Cashe.
On the site, I don’t allow socializing or joking. I remind prospective members that we’re here to get the Medal of Honor, therefore we should give our organization with the respect it deserves.
We must educate our own members to some extent. People who want to write letters to their representatives of Congress or start petitions are something I’ve got to keep an eye on. Except for removing the two-year time limit, Congress has no involvement with the award. The procedure is overseen by the military’s chain of command. The Medal of Honor is commonly referred to as the Congressional Medal of Honor, however it is simply known as the Medal of Honor.
HN: So, what are people’s options?
Harry Conner: The best way to help our group is to simply encourage friends and family to join and continue to spread the story of Sergeant Cashe and what he did, to try to get the public to understand what he did, why he did it, and the fact that we have men and women in our armed forces doing this (risking their lives) every day for our country.
HN: Is there anything else you’d like to say before we wrap up?
Harry Conner: I’m Harry Conner. I want you to consider something. Consider how painful it would be to burn your hand in a hot oven or on a grill. Three times, Al caught fire. He was only wearing his boots, helmet, and body armor. It’s unfathomable how long he had to be on fire for all of his outerwear to burn off. General William Webster, Al’s division commander and one of the persons who recommended him for the Medal of Honor, explains that if you see yourself on fire, your natural inclination is to put it out and go as far away from it as possible.
When the IED went off, Al was in the gunner’s hatch. He was able to extricate himself, and he and Sergeant Daniel Connelly were able to get (Specialist) Darren Howe out of the car and onto the ground, where they were able to extinguish the fire. When Cashe noticed the car was on fire, he urged Connelly to wait with Howe while Al returned to Alpha 13. That’s when he blew up.
He entered Alpha 13 three times, removing his men and an interpreter, who perished on the spot. Before he finished, their own rounds were heating up in the truck. The men of Alpha 12 had dismounted and were firing back at the attackers. Sergeant Cashe was staggering around, and when he re-ignited, Joel Garcia had to attack him and extinguish the flames. Four kilometers away, help arrived from Forward Operating Base McKenzie. They set up an aid station in a ditch, but due to a dust storm, helicopters were unable to medevac the guys, so they were driven to FOB McKenzie. Al refused to aid until everyone else had been brought to medevac, at which point he would accept it. He walked to the medevac flight with some assistance. We must convey this man’s tale and demonstrate why he merits the Medal of Honor.
To learn more about the steps involved in receiving the Medal of Honor, click here.
To see an example of a Medal of Honor recommendation form, click here.
It’s rare to see a Medal of Honor go to a soldier who served in Vietnam. SFC Alwyn Cashe, a native of Birmingham, Alabama, was deployed with Company A, 2nd Battalion, 503rd Infantry Regiment, 173rd Airborne Brigade from Fort Bragg, North Carolina.. Read more about alwyn cashe grave and let us know what you think.
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Frequently Asked Questions
Did Alwyn Cashe get the Medal of Honor?
Yes, Alwyn Cashe received the Medal of Honor for his service.
Who saves Alwyn Cashe?
Alwyn Cashe is saved by the protagonist, who has a name.
When did Alwyn Cashe die?
Alwyn Cashe died on November 29, 2016.
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