April 04, 2005

To Hell and Back... Again

Perhaps the most memorable scene in Audie Murphy's autobiographical To Hell and Back was when Murphy jumped up onto the back of a burning tank destroyer to single-handedly beat back a German assault using the .50-caliber M-2 machine gun mounted on top, earning the Congressional Medal of Honor, this nation's highest military award for valor.

Two years ago today, in Baghdad, Sgt. 1st Class Paul Ray Smith, 2nd Platoon, Bravo Company, 11th Engineer Battalion, 3rd Infantry Division, would almost exactly mirror Murphy's achievement. The parallels are staggering, the heroism and love of their fellow soldiers unquestioned.

Sgt. Smith was leading three dozen soldiers when they came under attack by an estimated 100 of the elite Iraqi Republican Guard armed with RPGs, machine guns, and mortars.

From Sgt. Smith's official Medal of Honor citation:

While an engineer squad began to clear debris in the courtyard, one of the guards saw 10-15 enemy soldiers with small arms, 60mm mortars, and rocket-propelled grenades (RPG). These were the lead elements of an organized company-sized force making a deliberate attack on the flank of Task Force 2-7. Sgt. 1st Class Smith came to the position and identified 25-50 more soldiers moving into prepared fighting positions. Sgt. 1st Class Smith instructed a squad leader to get a nearby Bradley Fighting Vehicle for support. While waiting for the Bradley, Sgt. 1st Class Smith had members of 2nd platoon retrieve AT-4 weapons and form a skirmish line outside the gate. By this time, the number of enemy identified rose to 100 soldiers, now a confirmed company-sized attack. Three of B Company's M113A3 armored personnel carriers (APC) oriented .50-cal. machineguns toward the opening in the wall and the surrounding guard towers, now occupied by enemy soldiers.

Sgt. 1st Class Smith's actions to organize a defense against the deliberate attack were not only effective, but inspired the B Company, 11th Engineer Battalion Soldiers. He then began to lead by example. As the Bradley arrived on site and moved through the hole in the wall toward the gate, Sgt. 1st Class Smith ran to the gate wall and threw a fragmentation grenade at the enemy. He then took two Soldiers forward to join the guards and directed their engagement of the enemy with small arms. The enemy continued to fire rifles, RPGs, and 60mm mortars at the Soldiers on the street and within the courtyard. Enemy soldiers began moving along the buildings on the north side of the clearing to get into position to climb into the towers. Sgt. 1st Class Smith called for an APC to move forward to provide additional fire support. Sgt. 1st Class Smith then fired an AT-4 at the enemy while directing his fire team assembled near the front line of the engagement area.

Running low on ammunition and having taken RPG hits, the Bradley withdrew to reload. The lead APC in the area received a direct hit from a mortar, wounding the three occupants. The enemy attack was at its strongest point and every action counted. Not only were the wounded Soldiers threatened but also more than 100 Soldiers from B Company, the Task Force Aid Station, and the Mortar Platoon were at risk.

Sgt. 1st Class Smith ordered one of his Soldiers to back the damaged APC back into the courtyard after the wounded men had been evacuated. Knowing the APC 's .50-Cal. machinegun was the largest weapon between the enemy and the friendly position, Sgt. 1st Class Smith immediately assumed the track commander's position behind the weapon, and told a soldier who accompanied him to "feed me ammunition whenever you hear the gun get quiet." Sgt. 1st Class Smith fired on the advancing enemy from the unprotected position atop the APC and expended at least three boxes of ammunition before being mortally wounded by enemy fire. The enemy attack was defeated. Sgt. 1st Class Smith's actions saved the lives of at least 100 Soldiers, caused the failure of a deliberate enemy attack hours after 1st Brigade seized the Baghdad Airport, and resulted in an estimated 20-50 enemy soldiers killed. His actions inspired his platoon, his Company, the 11th Engineer Battalion and Task Force 2-7 Infantry.

Sgt. Smith and Second Lieutenant Audie L. Murphy both mounted heavily-damaged, lightly armored vehicles to man exposed .50-caliber machine guns. They did so to repel enemy assaults that threatened to overrun their positions at great personal risk and with tremendous valor to save the lives of their soldiers.

Sgt. Smith's Congressional Medal of Honor was just the third Medal of Honor awarded since the Vietnam war, and the first of the Iraqi War.

Not just American Heros
In Al Amarah, Iraq on May 1, and June 11 , 2004, Private Johnson Beharry, driver of a Warrior IFV ( infantry fighting vehicle similar to the U.S. Bradley) in the British Army, won Great Britain's highest award for valor, the Victoria Cross. It was the first Victoria Cross awarded since the Falklands conflict, and the first awarded to a living recipient since 1965.

Note: Unfortunately, not everyone respects Congressional Medal of Honor recipients.

Posted by Confederate Yankee at April 4, 2005 03:03 PM | TrackBack