Normally I spend much of my time in these posts lauding the experiences and sacrifice of citizen soldiers and sailors during long ago conflicts … The Civil War, WWII, Korea and Vietnam. Mostly – I think – because these conflicts held a historical significance, events that could be studied and analyzed through the lens of history.
Our more recent conflicts in Afghanistan and Iraq, though important within the context of more recent events, do not as yet seem to carry the weight of History in the classical sense. But certainly that will change with Time, especially as the history of a new Iraq and a new Afghanistan plays out.
So for this Veterans Day, I present some stories from our most recent conflicts overseas. Please remember these Americans and all who served on Tuesday, November 11.
Corporal Jason L. Dunham (Hometown: Scio, NY)
14 April 2004 – Corporal Dunham’s squad was conducting a reconnaissance mission in the town of Karabilah, Iraq, when they heard rocket-propelled grenade and small arms fire erupt approximately two kilometers to the west. Corporal Dunham led his Combined Anti-Armor Team towards the engagement to provide fire support to their Battalion Commander’s convoy, which had been ambushed as it was traveling to Camp Husaybah.
As Corporal Dunham and his Marines advanced, they quickly began to receive enemy fire. Corporal Dunham ordered his squad to dismount their vehicles and led one of his fire teams on foot several blocks south of the ambushed convoy. Discovering seven Iraqi vehicles in a column attempting to depart, Corporal Dunham and his team stopped the vehicles to search them for weapons. As they approached the vehicles, an insurgent leaped out and attacked Corporal Dunham. Corporal Dunham wrestled the insurgent to the ground and in the ensuing struggle saw the insurgent release a grenade. Corporal Dunham immediately alerted his fellow Marines to the threat.
Aware of the imminent danger and without hesitation, Corporal Dunham covered the grenade with his helmet and body, bearing the brunt of the explosion and shielding his Marines from the blast. In an ultimate and selfless act of bravery in which he was mortally wounded, he saved the lives of at least two fellow Marines. By his undaunted courage, intrepid fighting spirit, and unwavering devotion to duty, Corporal Dunham gallantly gave his life for his country, thereby reflecting great credit upon himself and upholding the highest traditions of the Marine Corps and the United States Naval Service.
Corporal Jason L. Dunham was posthumously awarded the Congressional Medal of Honor on 11 January 2007.
Sergeant First Class Paul Ray Smith (Hometown: El Paso, Texas)
On 4 April 2003, Sergeant First Class Smith was engaged in the construction of a prisoner of war holding area when his Task Force was violently attacked by a company-sized enemy force. Realizing the vulnerability of over 100 fellow soldiers, Sergeant First Class Smith quickly organized a hasty defense consisting of two platoons of soldiers, one Bradley Fighting Vehicle and three armored personnel carriers.
As the fight developed, Sergeant First Class Smith braved hostile enemy fire to personally engage the enemy with hand grenades and anti-tank weapons, and organized the evacuation of three wounded soldiers from an armored personnel carrier struck by a rocket-propelled grenade and a 60mm mortar round. Fearing the enemy would overrun their defenses, Sergeant First Class Smith moved under withering enemy fire to man a .50 caliber machine gun mounted on a damaged armored personnel carrier.
In total disregard for his own life, he maintained his exposed position in order to engage the attacking enemy force. During this action, he was mortally wounded. His courageous actions helped defeat the enemy attack, and resulted in as many as 50 enemy soldiers killed, while allowing the safe withdrawal of numerous wounded soldiers. Sergeant First Class Smith’s extraordinary heroism and uncommon valor are in keeping with the highest traditions of the military service and reflect great credit upon himself, the Third Infantry Division “Rock of the Marne,” and the United States Army.
Sergeant First Class Paul Ray Smith was posthumously awarded the Congressional Medal of Honor on 05 April 2005. He is buried at Arlington National Cemetery.
Specialist Ty M. Carter (Hometown: Spokane, Washington) On October 3, 2009, Specialist Carter and his comrades awakened to an attack of an estimated 300 enemy fighters occupying the high ground on all four sides of Combat Outpost Keating, employing concentrated fire from recoilless rifles, rocket-propelled grenades, anti-aircraft machine guns, mortars and small arms fire. Specialist Carter reinforced a forward battle position, ran twice through a 100 meter gauntlet of enemy fire to resupply ammunition and voluntarily remained there to defend the isolated position.
Armed with only an M4 carbine rifle, Specialist Carter placed accurate, deadly fire on the enemy, beating back the assault force and preventing the position from being overrun, over the course of several hours. With complete disregard for his own safety and in spite of his own wounds, he ran through a hail of enemy rocket-propelled grenade and machine gun fire to rescue a critically wounded comrade who had been pinned down in an exposed position. Specialist Carter rendered life extending first aid and carried the Soldier to cover.
On his own initiative, Specialist Carter again maneuvered through enemy fire to check on a fallen Soldier and recovered the squad’s radio, which allowed them to coordinate their evacuation with fellow Soldiers. With teammates providing covering fire, Specialist Carter assisted in moving the wounded Soldier 100 meters through withering enemy fire to the aid station and before returning to the fight. Specialist Carter’s heroic actions and tactical skill were critical to the defense of Combat Outpost Keating, preventing the enemy from capturing the position and saving the lives of his fellow Soldiers. Specialist Ty M. Carter’s extraordinary heroism and selflessness above and beyond the call of duty are in keeping with the highest traditions of military service and reflect great credit upon himself, Bravo Troop, 3d Squadron, 61st Cavalry Regiment, 4th Brigade Combat Team, 4th Infantry Division and the United States Army.
Specialist Ty M. Carter was awarded the Congressional Medal of Honor on August 26, 2013.
Outpost Keating, where Specialist Carter fought, was featured in the book “The Outpost” by Jake Tapper. Recommended reading for gaining some insight into how difficult the war in Afghanistan was for all the shortcomings in political and military leadership, and for how it affected those put on the ground to fight it.
When I write these posts for Veterans Day or Memorial Day, I feel a bit guilty, especially when I fall back on the lazy act of simply cutting and pasting a few incredible stories about everyday men and women reacting to extremely dangerous situations in extraordinary ways.
It is in a cheap way to suggest a sort of familiarity, when in fact I have no way – like many of us sitting at home – of appreciating the real sacrifices or of comprehending the gravity of decisions made under enemy fire in places far, far from home.
For those veterans who stumble upon this post, my only objective here is to say thanks for all you gave up, did without, put up with, and lost. But most importantly, it’s in recognition for all you accomplished in taking on the most difficult of challenges in the collective interests of all Americans!