Three American service members were honored with the Medal of Honor — the nation’s highest military award — Thursday at the White House in a ceremony presided over by President Joe Biden.
Master Sergeant Earl Plumlee, a special forces soldier and the only living honoree among the three, was cited for his actions during an engagement in Afghanistan in 2013.
“Throughout the entire engagement, Plumlee repeatedly placed himself in extreme danger to protect his team and the base, and to defeat the enemy,” the Army wrote in its citation for Plumlee.
“It’s humbling to be nominated for this award and to be in this company,” Plumlee told reporters Wednesday during a news briefing. “The medal I’ll receive tomorrow will be presented to me, but it’s by no means mine.”
Sergeant 1st Class Alwyn Cashe, the first African American recipient of the award since the September 11, 2001, attacks, pulled several of his fellow soldiers from a burning vehicle in Iraq in 2005 despite second- and third-degree burns over 72% of his body.
“Without regard for his personal safety,” his posthumous Silver Star award citation reads, “Cashe pulled the driver from the vehicle after having already suffered minor injuries, and then rushed back inside three times to extract six trapped soldiers and their Iraqi interpreter as his own fuel-soaked uniform caught fire.”
He was 35.
Sergeant 1st Class Christopher Celiz, an Army Ranger, used his body to shield his fellow soldiers when they came under attack in Afghanistan in 2018. He then positioned himself to shield fellow soldiers and the cockpit of a helicopter that was evacuating a wounded soldier.
As the helicopter took off, Celiz ran for cover but was wounded. Instead of motioning for the helicopter to retrieve him, he waved it off, preventing further injuries.
“I saw three rounds go by his back foot as he was running for cover, and he skipped like he had been hit,” said 2nd Lieutenant David White, who served under Celiz. “He looked up at the helicopter as he collapsed to his hands and knees, and I saw him raise his hand as he was looking up and wave them off, like, ‘Don’t come back for me.'”
He was 32.
“Today, we honor three outstanding soldiers whose actions embody the highest ideals of selfless service,” Biden said during the ceremony. “We also remember the high prices that military members and their families are willing to pay on behalf of our nation.”
Celiz and Plumlee are the 19th and 20th service members awarded the Medal of Honor for actions in Afghanistan. Cashe is the seventh from the Iraq War to receive the honor.
Some information in this report came from The Associated Press.