Monday marked the 150th anniversary of the first presentation of the Medal of honour, which had its first recipient on Mar. 25, 1863 for actions during the Civil War. Despite its prestige, it’s not an award that most aspire to receive.
Regardless of the political reasons for being engaged in combat, the job is simple: protect each other and beat the enemy.
But for some servicemembers put into extreme circumstances, that daily grind can give way to moments of incredible bravery that warrants them the nation’s highest award.
That’s because to receive such an award, the recipient is required to risk their life and display “personal bravery or self-sacrifice so extraordinary as to set the individual apart from his or her comrades.”
Much of the time, it is the family of the fallen hero who receives the award posthumously. In the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, there have been 11 Medals of honour awarded.
On April 4, 2003, after his unit briefly battled and captured several Iraqi fighters near the Baghdad International Airport, Smith instructed his men to build an impromptu holding area for the prisoners in a nearby walled compound.
A short time later, his troops were violently attacked by a larger force. Smith rallied his men to organise a hasty defence, then braved hostile fire to engage the enemy with grenades and anti-tank weapons.
He then ran through blistering gunfire to man the .50 calibre machine gun on top of an armoured personnel carrier to keep the enemy from overrunning the position, completely disregarding his own safety to protect his soldiers.
Smith was mortally wounded during the attack, but he helped defeat the attacking force which had more than 50 enemy soldiers killed, according to his award citation.
Award Presented (posthumously): April 4, 2005
While his unit was engaged in a major firefight in Iraq along the Syrian border on Apr. 14, 2004, Dunham and his team stopped several vehicles to search them for weapons.
As he approached one of the vehicles, the driver lunged at Dunham's throat and they fought in a hand-to-hand battle. Wrestling on the ground, Dunham then yelled to his Marines, 'No, no watch his hand.'
The insurgent then dropped a grenade with the pin pulled. Dunham jumped on top it, placing his helmet between his body and the grenade in an effort to brunt the explosion.
'He knew what he was doing,' Lance Cpl. Jason A. Sanders, who was in Dunham's company, told Marine Corps News. 'He wanted to save Marines' lives from that grenade.'
He saved the lives of at least two Marines, and was mortally wounded in the blast.
Award Presented (posthumously): Jan. 11, 2007
Sergeant First Class Jared Monti ran through a hail of gunfire three times to save a wounded comrade
He could've escaped the blast, but Petty Officer Michael Monsoor jumped on top of a grenade that would have killed his teammates
While providing sniper overwatch in Ramadi, Iraq on Sep. 29, 2006, Monsoor and his SEAL Team eliminated insurgents that were planning a coordinated attack.
As the enemy activity ratcheted up, Monsoor took up a rooftop position to watch for more insurgents. Then a grenade bounced off his chest and landed at his feet.
From The Washington Post:
'Grenade!' Monsoor shouted. But the two snipers and another SEAL on the roof had no time to escape, as Monsoor was closest to the only exit. Monsoor dropped onto the grenade, smothering it with his body. It detonated, and Monsoor died about 30 minutes later from his wounds.
'He made an instantaneous decision to save our teammates. I immediately understood what happened, and tragically it made sense to me in keeping with the man I know, Mike Monsoor,' said Lt. Cmdr. Seth Stone, Monsoor's platoon leader in Ramadi.
Award Presented (posthumously): Apr. 8, 2008
Specialist Ross McGinnis saved the lives of the soldiers in his truck by pinning a grenade against his body
As McGinnis' platoon was driving through Adhamiyah, Iraq on Dec. 4, 2006, an insurgent on a rooftop tossed a fragmentation grenade into his Humvee.
McGinnis, who was in the gun turret behind the .50 cal, could have jumped out of the hatch and escaped the blast. Instead, he screamed, 'grenade' to warn his fellow soldiers as he tried to grab it to toss away, but he missed.
From Command Posts:
He stood as if he were going to leap out of the top of the Humvee, but instead he dropped down from his fighting position into the truck. Newland thought McGinnis was trying to escape the grenade. But he wasn't. McGinnis had realised that his teammates hadn't spotted it, and so he was chasing it. Newland couldn't move quickly enough to get out of the truck with its combat-locked doors, and none of the guys quite understood what was going on because McGinnis hadn't dived out.
The soldiers watched as McGinnis threw himself on the grenade and took the blast. He gave his life to save the four men inside the vehicle.
Award Presented (posthumously): Jun. 2, 2008
Staff Sergeant Salvatore Giunta ran through vicious gunfire to rescue a soldier being taken prisoner by the Taliban
On Jan. 25, 2008, Miller's Special Forces team was on a reconnaissance patrol near the Pakistani border when they came under attack. The first attack was quelled after calling for close air support, but soon after, insurgents opened up with heavy machine guns.
Miller's team captain was seriously wounded early in the battle. Completely disregarding his own safety, he ran into the hail of bullets from over 100 enemy fighters to give his team an opportunity to escape to covered positions.
Even after being shot in his upper torso, he ignored the wound and ran over open ground, ultimately killing at least 10 insurgents and wounding dozens more, according to his award citation.
'Five members of his patrol had been wounded, but his team had survived,' President Barack Obama said at the award presentation. 'And one of his teammates surely spoke for all of them when he said of Rob, 'I would not be alive today if not for his ultimate sacrifice.''
Award Presented (posthumously): Oct. 6, 2010
After his platoon of Army Rangers jumped out of helicopters in Paktia Province, Afghanistan to look for a high-value Taliban target on May 26, 2008, they came under serious attack.
Spotting a nearby compound, Petry led his soldiers in clearing the courtyard which had three Taliban fighters inside. Despite being hit in both legs by gunfire, Petry pushed in and led his soldiers to cover to assess other wounded soldiers.
Only a short time later, both of his soldiers were wounded by a grenade thrown at them by one of the fighters, and then another landed nearby. That's when Petry decided he would throw it back.
'It was almost instinct; off training,' Petry told the Army News Service. 'It was probably going to kill all three of us. I had time to visually see the hand grenade. And I figure it's got about a four-and-half second fuse, depending on how long it has been in the elements and the weather and everything and how long the pin has been pulled. I figure if you have time to see it you have time to kick it, throw it, just get it out there.'
Saving the lives of two soldiers, the grenade exploded just as he was throwing it, taking off his right hand. He then calmly placed a tourniquet on his arm as other soldiers neutralized the threat from the Taliban.
Award Presented: Jul. 12, 2011
Sergeant Dakota Meyer repeatedly drove through intense enemy fire during a 6-hour battle to save his four-man team
On Sep. 8, 2009, Meyer was providing rear security as the four other members of his team (along with Afghan troops) headed on foot into the village of Ganjgal, Afghanistan to meet with village elders.
It turned out to be a trap, and they were ambushed by more than 50 enemy fighters with rocket-propelled grenades, mortars, and machine guns firing from high ground.
Listening on the radio to his team -- who was now cut off -- Meyer disobeyed orders to remain in place and manned a .50 calibre machine gun on a gun truck heading into the village. Despite being wounded and braving intense enemy fire, Meyer went in and picked up wounded Afghans and brought them to safety four times. On his fifth trip, he dismounted and recovered the bodies of his four-man team, who Meyer had been trying to save throughout the battle.
'I was a failure,' Meyer later told CNN. 'My guys died. That was my whole team.'
Award Presented: Sep. 11, 2011
Staff Sergeant Clinton Romesha helped prevent an Army outpost from being overrun by hundreds of Taliban fighters
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