President Donald Trump late Friday signed legislation to allow Iraq War hero Alwyn Cashe to be awarded the Medal of Honor, a move that nearly ends Cashe’s family and supporters 15-year quest to honor him with the nation’s highest military award.
The legislation waives the normal five-year time limit for awarding the medal for Cashe, an Army sergeant first class who died in November 2005 after trying to save his men from a burning Bradley Fighting Vehicle.
Defense Department officials will now have to officially nominate Cashe for the award, a formality that officials have already indicated they support.
Cashe was previously honored with a Silver Star for his battlefield heroism, but supporters for years have argued that recognition wasn’t enough for his extraordinary selflessness and sacrifice.
He suffered second and third degree burns over nearly 75 percent of his body during his rescue attempt following an ambush in Daliaya, Iraq, in October 2005 . Witnesses said that even as the heat burned his uniform and body armor off of him, the soldier continued to ignore the pain to pull his men out of the fire.
At the time of the Silver Star award, Army officials said that even though the vehicle was set ablaze by a roadside bomb, Cashe’s actions did not merit the Medal of Honor because the soldiers were not in active combat.
However, follow-on investigations found the initial reports of the attack left out enemy gunfire which raked the ground around Cashe throughout his rescue attempts.
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For years, advocates argued for a medal upgrade. In August, then Defense Secretary Mark Esper publicly backed the effort, pending congressional action to waive the time limit.
In a statement, Rep. Stephanie Murphy, D-Fla. — who with Republican Reps. Michael Waltz of Florida and Dan Crenshaw of Texas introduced the legislation to upgrade Cashe’s honor — called the move long-overdue justice.
“Now that we have enacted bipartisan legislation to remove the only obstacle standing in the way of Alwyn receiving the Medal of Honor, which the Department of Defense has already concluded he earned, I hope the President will move swiftly to announce the award,” she said.
“The story of Alwyn’s heroism has inspired so many people and I cannot wait for the day that his family will receive the nation’s highest award for combat valor on his behalf.”
Cashe will become the first African American to receive the award for actions in the most recent wars. Critics have questioned whether discrimination has played a role in military officials’ handling of Cashe’s case.
But in a press conference with reporters earlier this fall , Cashe’s sister, Kasinal White, said she did not think his race was a factor.
“I feel the right information did not get back in time,” she said. “I think given what (Army officials) knew at the time, they did the best they could.”
However, she said she was ready to see her brother “get the medal he deserves.”
White House and Pentagon officials have not indicated when a formal ceremony bestowing the award to Cashe may be held.
About Leo Shane III
Leo covers Congress, Veterans Affairs and the White House for Military Times. He has covered Washington, D.C. since 2004, focusing on military personnel and veterans policies. His work has earned numerous honors, including a 2009 Polk award, a 2010 National Headliner Award, the IAVA Leadership in Journalism award and the VFW News Media award.