Wednesday, March 30, 2005

Medal of Honor

NYT reported Sgt. First Class Paul R. Smith, killed nearly two years ago defending his vastly outnumbered Army unit in a fierce battle with elite Iraqi troops for control of Baghdad's airport, will receive the Medal of Honor, the nation's highest military award, administration officials said Tuesday.

No soldier who served in Afghanistan or Iraq after the Sept. 11 attacks has yet received the medal. The last conflict to produce a Medal of Honor recipient was in Mogadishu, Somalia, in 1993; two soldiers were awarded the medal posthumously for actions there, later depicted in the movie "Black Hawk Down."

Sergeant Smith led a defense of a compound next to the airport against a much larger force of Special Republican Guard troops, manning a heavy machine gun, repeatedly firing and reloading three times before he was mortally wounded. Fellow soldiers said his actions killed 20 to 50 Iraqis, allowed wounded American soldiers to be evacuated, and saved an aid station and perhaps 100 lives.

Sergeant Smith's "extraordinary heroism and uncommon valor without regard to his own life in order to save others are in keeping with the highest traditions of the military service," a draft of the medal citation says.

President Bush will present the award to Sergeant Smith's widow and children at a White House ceremony on Monday, the second anniversary of the airport battle and the soldier's death.

The story of Paul Ray Smith is that of an ordinary recruit from Tampa, Fla., who fresh out of high school joined the Army not out of patriotism but for a steady paying job, and who 15 years later, as a battle-hardened platoon sergeant, was hurled into an extraordinary test, for which he paid the ultimate price.

See St Petersburg Times

Phillip Carter blogged You can read more about SFC Smith at the St. Petersburg Times' site. Official information, including the citation for SFC Smith, is available at the Army's MOH website. Also see this post

James Joyner blogged The Medal is so revered in the service that anyone wearing it, regardless of rank, is entitled to a salute from any non-recipient, regardless of their rank. The Army has a compilation of the citations for all Medal recipients. It's a chilling read. The Times has a special interactive section on SFC Smith, also linked from the photo above. It's appropriately entitled, "The last full measure of devotion."

Paul blogged In an unsent letter found on his laptop following his death, Sgt. Smith comments on how old the pictures of his kids in his wallet are and how hard it is to picture his kids now that they are older. This prompted me to establish a program at our photography studio called "Operation: Memories From Home" . We offered to photograph the families of service men and women and send a copy of their family portrait to their service member to help them remember their loved ones, all at no charge. It has been a rewarding success.

Saheli Datta blogged Regardless of your opinions on the war, I think it behooves all citizens of the Republic to give a little time and attention to stories like these. Respectful time and attention.

Tom Maguire blogged This honor has been wending its way through the system for a while. Here is a Winds of Change post providing background on the incident; an old NY Times story provides personal and family background.

Joe Katzman blogged Trent Telenko emails me with a heads-up concerning Sgt. First Class Paul Ray Smith, a soldier in Operation Iraqi Freedom 2003. He's about to become the first serviceman to receive the Medal of Honor since MSG Gary Gordon and SFC Randall Shughart's "Blackhawk Down" heroics in 1993. SFC Smith was the key player in a firefight at the Baghdad Airport that saw 15 to 20 engineers, mortarmen and medics defeat 50-100 soldiers of Iraq's Special Republican Guard.

In an act that brings to mind Private Audie Murphy's heroics in WWII, Smith's determined defense held off the Iraqi assault almost singlehandedly. Unlike Audie Murphy, however, Paul Smith did not survive. His posthumous medal will be left in the keeping of his wife, son and daughter.

I salute Sgt. First Class Paul R. Smith, and I thank him for what he did.

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