Valor Friday

| June 19, 2020

SFC Alwyn “Al” Cashe

Mason

It’s hard to believe we are rapidly approaching the second anniversary of losing site founder and operator SFC (ret) Jonn Lilyea, US Army. I’m sure I’m not alone in missing him and his wry sense of humor. In his honor, I’ll be exploring one of Jonn’s personal heroes today. Longtime readers will probably know the name already as Jonn repeatedly took up the cause to get this man’s heroics upgraded to a well deserved Medal of Honor. To date that has yet to happen, a tragic miscarriage of justice in our broken awards system.

Alwyn “Al” Cashe joined the US Army immediately after graduating high school in 1988. He made the Army a career and served as an infantryman. He’d be present in the Gulf War during Operation Desert Shield and through the Operation Desert Storm war, earning all three possible battle stars for his Southwest Asia Service Medal. Cashe would spend time on the drill field as a drill sergeant. He’d serve in Bosnia later in the ‘90s and serve a combat deployment in the Iraq War before setting off for his second Iraq War deployment in 2005 with the 3rd Infantry Division as a platoon sergeant in Co A, 1st Battalion, 15th Infantry Regiment.

Cashe had been the last of his parents’ ten children. His father died while he was only five years old. Alwyn’s family credits the Army with saving his life since growing up fatherless took a toll on the young man. He was known as a teen for frequent run-ins with the law and his teachers, barely graduating high school.

Cashe thrived in the Army, finding the structure he needed. He was immensely respected by his men. Called tough but fair, he led from the front and didn’t ask anything more of the men than he expected from himself, but also wouldn’t expect any less.

Before leaving for his third trip to the Fertile Crescent in January 2005 his sister told the father of three “not to be a hero” and to come home safe. “He had always said he would never leave one of his boys behind,” she said.

By October the men of the 3rd Infantry Division had seen a lot of death. The deployment had seen far too many casualties to roadside bombs and sniper bullets. Even fighting from within the armored Bradley Fighting Vehicle, the battle against the insurgency in Iraq had taken its toll. By the end of the deployment at the end of 2005, they had few Bradleys remaining.

It was on October 17th, 2005 that Alwyn Cashe would do something very few men would ever have the bravery, dedication, and self-sacrifice to do.

While on a “routine” patrol, a column of Bradleys were hit by a roadside bomb. The bomb directly hit the fighting vehicle Cashe was riding in, where he was serving as the gunner. The explosion hit the vehicle so hard it knocked all the infantrymen in the protected confines unconscious and ruptured the fuel tank, which exploded into fire like napalm.

Cashe was able to crawl out the gunner’s hatch, grabbing the injured driver through the driver’s hatch along the way and patting out the driver’s burning uniform. Injured, but not critically, Cashe was covered in diesel fuel. Getting the driver to safety, Cashe didn’t want to watch any more of his men die. He’d seen far too many lives lost already. Six American soldiers and a translator were still trapped inside.

Cashe rushed to the hatch on the Bradley. Flames licked out at him as he fought with the door. His uniform catching ablaze, he’d already done the unthinkable in even attempting to rescue the doomed men inside the machine, but he pressed on as his uniform and gear burned around him.

By the time Cashe got the hatch open, he only had on his body armor and helmet, his uniform burnt to asses or charred into his skin. Grabbing the first wounded soldier within, Cashe was assisted in carrying him to nearby medics.

Then he went back.

Enemy rounds were pinging off the hull of the disable vehicle and the intense heat from the fire inside was cooking off the ammunition within. Once inside for the second time, Cashe tried to douse the flames on his uniforms before realizing that his skin was peeling off with the remains of his clothing. Alwyn carried another man out of the Bradley, and with help, dragged him to the waiting medics.

Then he went back.

For a third time, Sergeant First Class Cashe rushed back into the burning hulk of his Bradley Fighting Vehicle. He would be the last casualty removed from the wreck. He’d helped to save seven men that day. The only one he didn’t rescue was the translator who had been killed instantly from the initial blast.

Sergeant Gary Mills was one of the men trapped inside. He remembers being on fire, his hands burnt so badly that he couldn’t work the rear hatch to free himself and his fellow soldiers. Suddenly the door opened from outside and a powerful arm reached in and yanked him bodily outside. The salvation must have felt like the hand of God himself. He’d later learn that it was SFC Cashe who had been his savior.

Though the excruciating pain of second and third degree burns covered 70-90% of his body, Cashe walked off the field of battle under his own power. He steadfastly refused medical evacuation despite being the most grievously injured until all of his men were loaded onto the helicopters first.

He was awake when he arrived at the Air Force’s theater hospital at Balad Air Base. An Air Force medic working triage saw his injuries and they rushed him into the emergency room. She said Alwyn needed to be physically restrained from getting off the gurney. As they tried to treat Cashe, she said “He just kept saying, ‘I’m good, I’m good, take care of my guys,’ He wanted us to focus on everyone else. It was as if they were his children.” As any middle-aged man who has led troops into combat could attest, they were like his children.

He and his wounded brethren were medevac’d out of Iraq to Brooke Army Medical Center in San Antonio. Cashe was awake for most of his three week stay there. When Cashe was able to speak, his sister said his first words were: “How are my boys?” — his soldiers. He began weeping and told her: “I couldn’t get to them fast enough.”

In constant physical pain from his life threatening injuries, he was in great emotional pain at the damage done to his men. As his fellow soldiers were treated in nearby rooms, he was disheartened more and more as they died one by one. Of the seven men he’d helped save five succumbed to their injuries.

The platoon sergeant’s only comfort was that his actions had allowed some of his troops time to say goodbye to their families. Likewise Cashe was able to speak with his family. Naturally they asked why he’d run headlong into danger time and again, virtually ensuring his own death. He said, “I had made peace with my God, but I didn’t know if my men had yet.”

Alwyn Cashe died of his injuries. As he was the last one out of the Bradley, having brought all his men out, so too was he the last one from that battle to head to his eternal reward. He was the final fatal casualty of the day’s carnage.

A week later, the Army posthumously awarded Cashe the Silver Star, the third highest medal for combat bravery. His commanding officers in succeeding years all voiced regret that he wasn’t put in for a higher award. All men, now with the benefit of hindsight, find his indescribable heroism on the battlefield worthy of our nation’s highest valor award, the Medal of Honor.

Since he died almost 15 years ago, there have been numerous pushes to upgrade Cashe’s medal, including by our very own Jonn Lilyea. All have stalled for one reason or another. I remain hopeful that a future review will rightfully honor Alwyn’s sacrifices, but justice delayed is justice denied.

During Cashe’s funeral he was remembered by dozens who spoke to his dedication, his professionalism, and to his passions in life outside soldiering such as hunting and fishing. His precociousness and sense of humor came through to those memorializing him.

One Army sergeant eulogized him with a memory of their Iraqi deployment. This sergeant’s team was in need of assistance near the Tigris River, with Cashe unsurprisingly answering the call. The sergeant said, “On the way out, he asked if I was OK, if my boys were all good, and then asked, `Did you get a chance to catch any fish while you were down there?’” From this, I can see why Jonn, who also was a platoon sergeant in a 3rd Infantry Division Bradley, connected with Al so much. I could see him making the same kind of joke.

Cashe’s best friend from childhood said the passing of Alwyn isn’t a loss. “To lose something is to not know where it is. And we know where Al is,” he said. “He is not lost. [The family] didn’t lose anything. God gained an angel.”

Cashe’s son Andrew has now followed in his father’s footsteps. Only eight years old when his father died, he joined the Army, selecting the ever noble infantry as his trade. As we read this, he is in US Army Infantry OSUT at Fort Benning. He’ll be earning his blue cord after finishing the 22-week infantry training program in July, just after his 23rd birthday.

If you’d like to read Jonn’s thoughts, he posted about Cashe several times;

Hero’s grave displays wrong award

Hero Cashe’s grave displays wrong military award

DoD stingy with Medal of Honor?

Alwyn Cashe’s Medal of Honor moves slowly forward

African-American war heroes

“…but justice delayed is justice denied.” Absolutely. Absolutely nothing to add, either, except Hand Salute. Ready, Two!

Thanks again, Mason.

Category: Guest Post, The Warrior Code, Valor

Comments (20)

Trackback URL | Comments RSS Feed

  1. Roh-Dog says:

    Thank God Almighty for such Men as SFC Cashe!
    ‘Can Do’ indeed.
    See you on the Highest Ground.

  2. Sparks says:

    What a great and humble man. He earned the MoH from the outset for his actions. I hope they rectify this for him and his family.

  3. Jay says:

    Christ Almighty. I just don’t know what to say. Even to the very end he was more concerned about the MEN.

  4. UpNorth says:

    Rock of the Marne!! Rest In Peace, SFC Cash. The Silver Star should be upgraded to the MOH now.

  5. 5th/77th FA says:

    “…no greater Love…” Indeed! Thanks for reminding us of this hero…and the reminder of our departed Platoon Daddy. Got a bit dusty in here, I guess those air handlers filters need to be changed…again. One would hope that the push to upgrade this Heros’ Award is still ongoing. Maybe a call to President Trump’s White House Veterans Line would be in order.

    Hand Salute, like hell. Division Artillery Gun Salute…Fire by the Battalion…PREPARE…COMMENCE FIRING!

    Thanks Mason ps… the linkys don’t open.

  6. Ex-PH2 says:

    Jesus wept….

  7. Skippy says:

    Rest Well
    A amazing true leader
    I hope to meet you on the other side
    This great country definitely owes you
    a Higher debt of gratitude.
    Salute!!!!!!!

  8. Slow Joe says:

    I can’t believe he only got a fuckin SS.

    He clearly deserved a MoH.

    I don’t even understand why the delay in awarding him what he clearly earned.

    This is a travesty.

    I blame it on his fuckin chain of command for not putting him up for the MoH to begin with.

    I hope they live in shame for the rest of their fuckin lives. Fuxkin weasels. Didn’t want to run the DA 636 all the way to the fukin top. Cowards and weasel.

    Meanwhile, a fuckin COL gets a SS for running his vehicle at “breakneck speed”.

    Fuxk this shit.

    • 11B-Mailclerk says:

      Sadly, a poor write-up is the likely culprit.

      I spent a bunch of time re-writing award submissions. It was amazing how many times I would ask the recommending person “tell me the story” and a ho-hum write-up of “did his job” turned into “no shit! This guy ROCKS!”.

      So yeah, possibly screwed by someone who can’t write, and too proud to admit it. Or some lazy squeeb clerk. Gah.

      Total crime he didn’t get MOH.

      • Fyrfighter says:

        OOOHHHRAH Andrew! Good on you! and if ever a man deserved the MOH, Sgt Cashe does. I truly hope that some day this travesty is rectified…

        That such men lived…

      • Sapper3307 says:

        Possibly something turned up in a background check. I believe Obama would have approved it otherwise.

      • Mason says:

        There was also a misunderstanding that they were taking direct fire from insurgents. Early on the reports were that it was just the IED blast. Since his acts weren’t “in action”, they recommended him for the SS. It was after the recommendations were made that the command discovered they were taking direct fire.

        I don’t know if it was guidance at the time or the reluctance around then to not nominate people for the MoH or DSC. He was only ever recommended, at the time, for the SS. Even though the SS also requires gallantry in action.

  9. Slow Joe says:

    Anyone knows what basic training company Andrew Cashe is in?

    Don’t worry. I am not gonna show up and embarrass him.

    But I might have an opportunity to be there when he gets he blue cord. Don’t worry. He will not know I am there for him.

    • Mason says:

      Don’t know the company, but public information is 1st Battalion, 50th Infantry. He’s slated for a “virtual graduation” on 24 July.

  10. CCO says:

    Shoot, one of my uncles was awarded the Silver Star for (after being wounded himself) sticking with and moving to avoid the enemy with a buddy who couldn’t move. SFC Cashe walked through fire!

    The Army should be cautious with its awards. It should be thrifty with the MOH, but not miserly!