President Joe Biden posthumously awarded Sgt. 1st Class Alwyn Cashe the Medal of Honor on Thursday, making Cashe the first Black recipient of the award since 9/11.
The Medal of Honor is the nation’s highest military award for valor, according to ABC News. Cashe sustained fatal injuries while he was rescuing six fellow soldiers and an Iraqi interpreter from a burning vehicle during Operation Iraqi Freedom on Oct. 17, 2005. He had burns on nearly 72% of his body, WFTV reports, and died on Nov. 8, 2005.
“We lost our brother. He can’t be replaced. But this award means that his name and his legacy will go down in history,” his sister, Kasinal Cashe-White, said.
When the vehicle that Cashe was commanding became engulfed in flames during an attack, his uniform caught fire and he sustained severe burns while extinguishing the flames and rescuing his fellow soldiers, according to the White House. Even after suffering injuries, he repeatedly approached the vehicle and helped four soldiers escape while being targeted by live fire.
“Despite the severe second and third degree burns covering the majority of his body, Sergeant First Class Cashe persevered through the pain to encourage his fellow Soldiers and ensure they received needed medical care,” the White House said. “When medical evacuation helicopters began to arrive, he selflessly refused evacuation until all of the other wounded Soldiers were first evacuated.”
When asked if she thought race was a part of the 16 year wait for the award, Cashe-White said “I don’t think so. I think it was just a matter of timing,” she continued, according to ABC, “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.”
Cashe was previously awarded the Silver Star, but for years several other officers from the 3rd Infantry Division, including his battalion commander Lt. Gen. Gary Brito, argued that Cashe deserved more than the Army’s third-highest honor.
According to the White House, Cashe is honored alongside a Special Forces soldier Master Sgt. Earl Plumlee, who faced Taliban suicide bombers in Afghanistan and another posthumous honoree, Sgt. 1st Class Christopher Celiz, who died during a firefight in Afghanistan. Cashe’s widow, Tamara Cashe, accepted the award on his behalf at the White House ceremony.
“Each of you knows what it means to stare down danger and summon the strength in a moment of trial,” President Joe Biden said, according to Washington Post. “We’re grateful for all that you have done — and so many more.”