Today on National Medal of Honor Day, there’s one obvious question: Why has Army Sgt. 1st Class Alwyn Cashe not been awarded the Medal of Honor?
Cashe died in November 2005 after literally walking through fire to save his soldiers in Iraq. More than a decade later, the fight to have him recognized for his heroism seemed to be nearing a successful end. In December, then-President Donald Trump signed a law authorizing Cashe to posthumously receive the medal, waiving a requirement which says it must be awarded within five years of the heroic action in question.
By January, the Pentagon had recommended the nomination to the White House after it was signed off on by then-Army Secretary Ryan McCarthy and Acting Defense Secretary Christopher Miller.
Almost a week later, everyone was still waiting.
The process stalled after the attack on the U.S. Capitol on Jan. 6. Days after the riots, two defense officials told Task & Purpose that the White House team who had been coordinating the official announcement determined that any potential Medal of Honor ceremony for Cashe wouldn’t come until after the presidential inauguration later that month.
Now, two months into President Joe Biden’s administration, the waiting continues. On Thursday a spokesman for the National Security Council told Task & Purpose that the White House had no updates to share. Pentagon spokesman John Kirby also said the Pentagon had no updates.
The silence is not necessarily surprising given the wild goose chase Connecting Vets’ Abbie Bennett was sent on last month to get answers:
Still, we can’t help but wonder why it has taken so long, and how much longer it will take to recognize one of the greatest acts of sacrifice by a U.S. service member during the Iraq War. On Oct. 17, 2005, after his Bradley Fighting Vehicle hit an improvised explosive device in Daliaya, Iraq, Cashe and several other soldiers were trapped inside as the vehicle burst into flames. Cashe got himself and the driver out, but six other soldiers and a translator were still stuck, according to his Silver Star citation.
Despite being drenched in fuel, Cashe went back again and again and again, pulling soldiers out one by one even as he caught on fire.
“The flames gripped his fuel soaked uniform,” the citation reads. “Flames quickly spread all over his body. Despite the terrible pain, Sergeant First Class Cashe placed the injured soldier on the ground and returned to the burning vehicle to retrieve another burning soldier; all the while, he was still on fire. … In the end, the national translator was killed in action, and 10 soldiers were injured. Seven of the ten were very seriously injured. Sergeant First Class Cashe stayed a hero through it all.”
Ultimately Cashe suffered 2nd and 3rd degree burns over 72 percent of his body, but “refused” to be evacuated from the scene of the explosion until his men had been taken to safety, according to the Los Angeles Times. His sister, Kasinal Cashe White, told the Times that when she went to visit him in a military hospital in San Antonio, Texas, the first thing he asked when he was able to speak was, “How are my boys?”
Cashe succumbed to his wounds on Nov. 8, 2005, at the Brooke Army Medical Center in San Antonio.
White confirmed on Thursday that she hasn’t heard from the White House yet on her brother’s Medal of Honor, but said that she hadn’t really expected Biden to be able to get to her brother in his first 100 days because of the novel coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic.
“As a sister who’s been waiting, I was trying to extend him some grace with everything that’s going on with this pandemic,” White, a registered nurse, said. “Being a healthcare professional, I thought it was more important to get these vaccinations out.”
But now that the COVID relief bill has been passed, she said, she’s ready to get going. And who can blame her? Almost 16 years later, hasn’t she waited long enough?
“I want to know where we are,” she said. “The importance of today did not pass me by.”
Update: This post was updated at 2:50 p.m. on March 25 to include comment from Pentagon spokesman John Kirby.