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These two soldiers may still get Medal of Honor upgrades

The names of a Vietnam veteran and a soldier killed in the Iraq War were in the House’s version of the National Defense Authorization Act this week to waive the time limits for Medal of Honor upgrades.

Sgt. 1st Class Alwyn C. Cashe, who died saving troops from a burning vehicle, didn’t make it into the final bill passed by the House after lawmakers there convened with the Senate. But one congressional office involved in pushing for the award said that it doesn’t derail the effort.

“In fact, the reason it was not adopted is, presumably, because it was not necessary,” the office of Florida Democrat Rep. Stephanie Murphy said in a statement. Cashe is a native of Oviedo, Florida, which is in the congresswoman’s district.

A Medal of Honor must be awarded within five years of a service member’s actions warranting the award, absent a time waiver. However, the 2017 defense bill included a provision that waives the time limits for all service members who already received valor awards for actions in recent conflicts, including Iraq and Afghanistan.

Cashe already received the Silver Star for his actions and that award is currently under review for a potential upgrade, the congressional office said.

Retired Maj. John J. Duffy’s name did make it into the final bill, however, meaning the Vietnam-era soldier who previously received the Distinguished Service Cross may receive an upgrade.

Over the course of a 24-hour battle in 1972, Duffy repeatedly exposed himself to the continuous bombardment of his firebase as he adjusted airstrikes on North Vietnamese Army formations and enemy anti-aircraft guns, according to his archived citation.

Cashe’s actions took place on Oct. 17, 2005, when he rescued multiple soldiers from a burning Bradley Fighting Vehicle near Forward Operating Base MacKenzie in northern Iraq.

Sgt. 1st Class Alwyn Cashe died after saving multiple troops from a burning Bradley vehicle while engulfed in flames himself. (Army)
Sgt. 1st Class Alwyn Cashe died after saving multiple troops from a burning Bradley vehicle while engulfed in flames himself. (Army)

Cashe escaped an initial IED blast relatively unscathed, but he suffered second- and third-degree burns over more than two-thirds of his body after running back to the vehicle to rescue soldiers trapped inside.

“The blast ignited the fuel cell on the vehicle causing fuel to spew everywhere,” according to his citation. “The vehicle came to a stop and immediately erupted in flames. Sergeant First Class Cashe was initially slightly injured and drenched with fuel.

While under small arms fire, Cashe managed to escape the Bradley’s gunner hatch and assist the driver out of the vehicle. Then he moved to the back of the Bradley to pull his soldiers out from the flames inside.

“The flames gripped his fuel soaked uniform. Flames quickly spread all over his body,” the citation reads. “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.”

Cashe helped rescue six soldiers, but he died less than a month later from his wounds at San Antonio Military Medical Center in Texas. He ultimately received the Silver Star for his actions, but lawmakers have been pushing for an upgrade.

Reps. Dan Crenshaw, Michael Waltz, both Republicans and Murphy wrote a letter to Defense Secretary Mark T. Esper and Army Secretary Ryan D. McCarthy in October urging action.

“Cashe has become something of a legend in military circles,” the lawmakers wrote. “Cashe has earned the highest award for military valor that our nation bestows, and we hope you will ensure that his case is scrutinized with the utmost care.”

Alwyn Cashe poses with his platoon leader, 1st Lt. James Ryan, during their deployment to Forward Operating Base McKenzie in Samarra, Iraq. (Retired Maj. James Ryan/Army)
Alwyn Cashe poses with his platoon leader, 1st Lt. James Ryan, during their deployment to Forward Operating Base McKenzie in Samarra, Iraq. (Retired Maj. James Ryan/Army)

Another potential upgrade is for Duffy, a Vietnam veteran who received the Distinguished Service Cross for his actions on April 14-15, 1972.

Duffy was an advisor to Vietnamese paratroopers in Kontum Province, South Vietnam, during a massive North Vietnamese Army assault on his firebase.

Duffy was responsible for coordinating airstrikes around their besieged base, often while under fire. His citation states that he “was the last man off the base, remaining behind to adjust the covering gunships until the last possible moment.”

After the Vietnamese partner battalion commander was seriously wounded, Duffy took command of the evacuating soldiers and led them through the nighttime jungle to saftey.

Army Headquarters spokesman Lt. Col. Emmanuel Ortiz-Cruz declined to comment on the potential upgrades, citing the ongoing nature of the awards process.

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