WASHINGTON — A California lawmaker is calling for a full review of top military medals to see if deserving heroes were passed over for the Medal of Honor, citing the story of Sgt. 1st Class Alywn Cashe as a prime example of officials downplaying battlefield valor.
Cashe, whose heroics were profiled by Stars and Stripes earlier this week, was awarded the Silver Star posthumously in 2005 for running into a burning Bradley Fighting Vehicle multiple times to save his fellow soldiers. But his family and fellow troops believe that Cashe’s bravery and sacrifice warrant the Medal of Honor, and have been pushing for that recognition for years.
In a letter to the secretary of defense sent late Tuesday, Republican Rep. Duncan Hunter, a combat veteran of the Iraq and Afghanistan wars, said he and other critics of the military awards system are frustrated with the small number of Medals of Honor for the current wars. Only 10 have been awarded.
For comparison, 248 Medals of honor were awarded during the Vietnam War. That war involved roughly twice as many troops as the current conflicts, but had nearly 25 times the number of top medals.
Hunter blames paperwork problems and confusion over the rules rather than a lack of combat heroism.
“There is no shortage of instances where combat personnel have performed remarkable acts of heroism under immense danger and personal risk,” he wrote. “Having read numerous citations describing combat action in detail, it is my belief that there are other individuals, for reasons they were either overlooked or recognized with [lesser awards], who deserve consideration for the Medal of Honor.”
Hunter lists four servicemembers who stand out as worthy of the military’s top honor but have not been recognized as such. First among them is Cashe, “who rescued six of his fellow soldiers from a burning Bradley while covered in flames.”
Cashe died three weeks later from his wounds. Military officials who served alongside Cashe told Stars and Stripes that they recommended he be awarded the Silver Star because they were initially unaware of some battlefield details, and because they were unfamiliar with the rules regarding nominations for the Medal of Honor.
In his letter, Hunter also cited the controversial case of Marine Corps Sgt. Rafael Peralta, awarded the Navy Cross for smothering a grenade with his body during a 2004 firefight in Iraq. Medical examiners argued that Peralta was already dead before the grenade was thrown, though troops he served with continue to dispute that analysis.
He also cited the cases of two living heroes: Air Force Staff Sgt. Robert Gutierrez, awarded the Air Force Cross for directing strikes against Taliban fighters in Afghanistan after suffering a collapsed lung, and Marine Corps Capt. Brian Chontosh, who received the Navy Cross for killing 20 enemy fighters during a 2003 battle in Iraq.
“Given the examples stated, I am confident that there are even more instances of awards that are consistent with the history and tradition of the Medal of Honor and stand a good chance of being upgraded through a formal review process,” Hunter wrote.
Last month, Army officials received a similar request for a review of all Silver Star awards and above from military historian Doug Sterner, who said that many of those heroic acts meet the standard for an upgrade to the Medal of Honor. Army officials said they are reviewing the proposal.