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Spc. Larry Underwood earned a Silver Star for freeing four other soldiers from a burning Humvee. Pictured are, from left: Sgt. Vincent Vidal, Staff Sgt. Thomas Francis, Sgt. Josh Tyler, Staff Sgt. Adam Young, Underwood and Sgt. Wesson.(Courtesy of Larry Underwood)Spc. Larry Underwood

Unit: 1st Squadron, 4th Cavalry Regiment, 1st Infantry Division

Medal: Silver Star

Earned: July 21, 2004, Ad Duluiyah, Iraq

Spc. Larry Underwood’s nose told him his buddies were in trouble.

He and four of his scout-platoon mates from the 1st Infantry Division’s 1st Squadron, 4th Cavalry Regiment sat in the rear of a Bradley fighting vehicle the night of July 21, 2004.

They were hot and tired; they’d just wrapped up a 24-hour foot patrol in Ad Duluiyah, Iraq, just east of rebel-held Samarra. About 50 yards behind them was a second Bradley.

As they cruised along, a roadside bomb exploded underneath the second Bradley.

“We didn’t really hear the explosion,” Underwood said, explaining that the rumble of their vehicle’s tracks disguised the boom. “But we could smell the gunpowder.”

The driver heard it and stopped. They jumped out and rushed to the burning Bradley. Their actions in the next few minutes would save four soldiers’ lives and earn Underwood a Silver Star.

Underwood, 30, grew up in rural Booneville, Ark. After high school, he drifted from one dead-end job to another for six years until his older brother, an officer, talked him into joining the Army.

In late 1999, after training as a Cavalry scout, he landed in Schweinfurt, Germany, with the 1-4 Cavalry. Early in his second tour, the unit was called to Iraq.

The soldiers were ready and eager, but that excitement soon faded into a routine of patrols and raids that Underwood described as “the most boring months of your life, and the most exciting seconds.”

On that night, Pfc. Nicholas Blodgett, 21, was driving the second Bradley. Standing in the hatch next to him was the fighting vehicle’s commander, Staff Sgt. Bradley Shadden.

In the back was a five-man patrol they’d picked up around midnight. Staff Sgt. Metoyer Jordan and his team shouted over the Bradley’s din, discussing what comedy they might watch when they returned to nearby Forward Operating Base MacKenzie.

Then came the blast.

“My initial reaction was, ‘What the hell was that?’” Jordan, 29, of New Orleans, recalled.

As smoke filled the Bradley, Jordan tried to pull Blodgett out of the driver’s hole. But he was hopelessly stuck and showed no signs of life. So he rushed to the rear to open the hatch. It opened a crack, then jammed. Jordan and the others yelled for help.

Outside, Underwood and his platoon mates — Staff Sgts. Tommy Francis and Shawn Norman, Sgts. Josh Tyler and Vincent Vidal — saw the flames and came running to help.

Shadden leaped out of the hatch. Underwood grabbed a fire extinguisher to douse the flames around the driver, then tried to help Shadden pull Blodgett’s body out.

It was no use.

Hearing Jordan’s shouts, Underwood and Shadden raced around back to help open the jammed hatch. Heat and smoke prevented them from spending more than 30 seconds each on it.

“It was driving everybody crazy,” Underwood said. “You’ve got four guys yelling out of the vehicle. Nothing was going to get us away till we got them out.”

As flames licked at feet and hot smoke seared lungs, Underwood realized he could use his rifle barrel to pry at the stuck latch. Instantly the door opened. The trapped soldiers barreled out and were led to a wall to protect them from ammo rounds now cooking off.

In April, after returning from Iraq, Underwood learned he would receive the Silver Star.

It brings him no joy. It reminds him of the Bradley burning with his friend’s body inside. And he doesn’t like being singled out.

“It was a team,” he said. “Everybody did everything they could.”

The men who were in the burning Bradley, however, don’t doubt Underwood deserves the medal.

“I haven’t really thanked him, because I don’t know how,” Jordan said. “On the inside, I love this soldier to death. He’s the reason I’m here talking to you.”

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