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Family determined to see Alwyn Cashe awarded Medal of Honor for heroics in Iraq

Sgt. 1st Class Alwyn Cashe, in an undated photo. Cashe died Nov. 8, 2005, three weeks after sacrificing his life to save his Soldiers from a burning vehicle. (U.S. Army/Released)

Fifteen years ago, Oviedo native Sgt. 1st Class Alwyn Cashe died after he pulled seven men from a burning armored vehicle after a roadside bomb detonated in Iraq.

But bureaucratic red tape has kept his family from seeing Cashe become the first African American recipient of the Medal of Honor, the U.S. Military’s most prestigious award for personal valor, for service in Iraq and Afghanistan.

Tuesday brought a long-awaited breakthrough with U.S. Rep. Stephanie Murphy, D-Winter Park, and other sponsors expected to shepherd a bill through the House that will pave the way for Congress to waive the five-year limit on eligibility and allow President Donald Trump to recognize Cashe with the honor.

“Alwyn’s a hero in the most pure and profound sense,” Murphy said Tuesday at a news conference. “What he did on that Iraq battlefield really takes your breath away.”

He was posthumously awarded the Silver Star. His family has been campaigning since then for his recognition to be upgraded to the Medal of Honor.

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In October 2005, Cashe, 35, crawled out from the wreckage — his uniform drenched in diesel fuel — then went back multiple times to recover six soldiers and an interpreter while dodging enemy gunfire.

The translator didn’t survive the fiery scene and Cashe died a few weeks later from burns that covered more than 70% of his body.

His sister, Kasinal Cashe White, said she doesn’t believe discrimination played a factor in previous failed attempts to elevate her brother’s recognition.

“I know it wasn’t a race thing … ,” she said. “He did what he did not because he was Black, he did what he did because he was a soldier.”

Before he died at a military hospital in Texas, Stars and Stripes reported that Cashe told his family he went back to the flaming wreckage because “I had made peace with my God, but I didn’t know if my men had yet.”

Murphy acknowledged there’s a tight deadline for the U.S. Senate to review Cashe’s bill, which already has the support of U.S. Secretary of Defense Mark Esper, before breaking next month. If the Senate fails to take up the bill, she has a backup plan. Cashe’s case will be folded into the upcoming National Defense Authorization Act.

“One way or another, we are going to get this done,” she said.

In 2018, Murphy sponsored legislation to name a U.S. Post Office in Oviedo in Cashe’s honor, a site that White said she visits to see the plaque for her “baby brother” hanging there.

“It is my desire to see it to fruition,” she said of her family’s Medal of Honor quest. “I just can’t leave this world without it happening.”

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© 2020 The Orlando Sentinel