Tuesday, April 05, 2005

Iraq war hero earns first Medal of Honor

There are times when we tend to throw around the word hero all too loosely. The a true hero comes along and we take stock of how much we over use that word. Army Sgt. 1st Class Paul Ray Smith is a true hero in every sense of the word. And he has bee rightfully been arwarded this country's highest award for valor, the Congressional Medal of Honor. Sadly, it was awarded posthumously. His young son accepted the arward from President Bush. Here is an excerpt from the Washington Times article.

"The 33-year-old sergeant, who was born in El Paso, Texas, but moved to Tampa, Fla., as a boy, was the senior noncommissioned officer in a platoon of engineers during the 3rd Infantry Division's northward push toward Baghdad.

U.S. and coalition forces had sprinted to Baghdad and had already captured the international airport, one of the key objectives to securing the city, according to an Army narrative. As troops encircled Baghdad, Iraqi militiamen and special Republican Guard forces were trapped, prompting fierce firefights.

Near the eastern edge of the airport, Sgt. Smith, a veteran of the first Gulf war, had been put in charge of 2nd Platoon, Bravo Company, 11th Engineer Battalion, while his lieutenant and other soldiers went on a scouting mission.

The sergeant's task that day was to turn a courtyard into a holding cell for Iraqi prisoners of war. The courtyard, just north of the main road between Baghdad and the airport, was near an Iraqi military compound.

But just as they began their work, armed Iraqis were spotted approaching from beyond the gated walls of the courtyard. Another group of Iraqis occupied a nearby tower. Altogether, there were more than 100 Iraqis, outnumbering the Army troops 4 to 1.

Almost immediately, Sgt. Smith took charge of a Bradley fighting vehicle and positioned it to block the enemy. An M-113 armored personnel carrier joined the fray.
The Iraqis attacked with rifle fire, mortars and rocket-propelled grenades. Sgt. Smith threw a grenade over a wall to drive back some of the Iraqis, then fired a rocket.

Incoming grenades battered the Bradley, which retreated. Then a mortar slammed into the M-113, wounding the three soldiers inside and leaving its heavy machine gun unmanned. After directing another soldier to pull the wounded crewmen to safety, Sgt. Smith climbed into the machine gun position and began firing at the tower.
"With complete disregard for his own life and under constant enemy fire, Sergeant Smith rallied his men and led a counterattack," Mr. Bush said yesterday.

"From a completely exposed position, he killed as many as 50 enemy soldiers as he protected his men," he said.

With American medics, scouts, a mortar unit and a command post -- all lightly armed and vulnerable -- to protect, Sgt. Smith manned the gun for 15 minutes or longer, firing more than 300 rounds as Pvt. Michael Seaman, protected inside the M-113, passed him ammunition.

Then Sgt. Smith was struck in the head and mortally wounded. At almost the same time, 1st Sgt. Timothy Campbell ended the threat from the tower with a grenade, and the surviving Iraqis withdrew. Medics tried to save Sgt. Smith, but he died about 30 minutes later."
No greater love has a man then to lay down his life for his fellow man. I salute the Sergeant and hope that his family will be comforted by his memory and his heroism. - Sailor

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