Throughout history, we have heard of countless acts of heroism and bravery. This article focuses on just seven of those acts. The Seven Medal of Honor Recipients from the war in Iraq. Undoubtedly, there are more heroes from this conflict deserving the nation’s highest honor, and hopefully, someday, we will learn their stories as well. Until then, I would like to tell the stories of the seven.
The Seven Medal of Honor Recipients From The War in Iraq
Sergeant First Class Paul R Smith (Deceased) – U.S. Army Action Date April 4, 2003
The first of the Medal of Honor Recipients from the war in Iraq was Sergeant First Class Paul R. Smith. Smith was an engineer serving near the Baghdad International Airport, Baghdad. Suddenly, A company-sized enemy force attacked his unit of over 100 Soldiers as they were building a POW holding area. Smith organized a hasty defensive position with two platoons of Soldiers, a Bradley Fighting Vehicle, and three APC’s (armored personnel carriers.) During the attack, Smith exposed himself to hostile enemy fire multiple times, engaging with hand grenades and anti-tank weapons. Smith also organized the medical evacuation of three wounded Soldiers when enemy rockets hit the APC they were in.
Then, Smith moved under enemy fire and operated a .50 caliber machine gun on one of the damaged APCs. Despite being exposed, he maintained his position and engaged the attacking enemy force until he was mortally wounded. Smith’s actions were a vital part of defeating the enemy attack killing approximately 50 enemies and saving numerous wounded Soldiers. Learn more about Smith’s Medal of Honor here.
Corporal Jason L Dunham (Deceased) – U.S. Marine Corps Medal of Honor Action Date April 14, 2004
Corporal Jason L Dunham served as a Marine Corps Rifle Squad Leader. When enemy combatants ambushed his Battalion Commander’s convoy, Dunham led his team towards the engagement to provide fire support. During the fight, an insurgent attacked Corporal Dunham. He then wrestled the enemy to the ground, and during the battle, the insurgent released a grenade. Having noticed the imminent danger to his fellow Marines, Dunham immediately alerted them and covered the grenade. Although he was mortally wounded, Dunham’s actions saved at least two fellow Marines’ lives. Read the whole Medal of Honor story here.
Staff Sergeant David G Bellavia – U.S. Army Medal of Honor Action Date November 10, 2004
Staff Sergeant David G. Bellavia served as a squad leader in Fallujah, Iraq. A squad from his platoon got trapped in a room by intense enemy fire from a fortified position. Bellavia immediately grabbed an automatic weapon and entered the multi-story house, engaging insurgents. Bellavia’s covering fire allowed the squad to escape the house. The unit brought a Bradley Fighting Vehicle forward to suppress the enemy; however, it could not fire directly at the enemy position due to high walls surrounding the house. Bellavia reentered the house under intense enemy fire. Noticing an insurgent trying to launch a rocket-propelled grenade at his platoon, Bellavia attacked, killing one insurgent and wounding another who escaped to another room. Bellavia moved to clear a dark, uncleared room and was immediately attacked by an insurgent coming down the stairs.
Simultaneously, the insurgent Bellavia had previously wounded, reappeared, and attacked. Bellavia returned fire, eliminating both insurgents. Then, he was fired upon by another insurgent hiding in a closet in the darkened room. In the ensuing gunfire exchange, Bellavia chased the enemy up the stairs and destroyed him. He then moved to a door leading to the roof; when a fifth insurgent jumped from the third floor’s roof, Bellavia attacked the insurgent through a window, causing the combatant to fall off the rooftop. Ultimately, Bellavia single-handedly cleared the enemy-filled house, destroying four insurgents and wounding a fifth. You can read the full Medal of Honor citation here.
Petty Officer Michael Monsoor served as a SEAL team member in support of Operation Iraqi Freedom. When enemy insurgents assaulted his element with a rocket-propelled grenade and small arms fire, Monsoor positioned himself between two teammates. During the attack, an enemy grenade landed in front of Monsoor. He instantly threw himself onto the grenade, saving the lives of his two teammates. Learn more about Monsoor’s Medal of Honor here.
Private First Class Ross A McGinnis (Deceased) – U.S. Army Medal of Honor Action Date December 4, 2006
Private First Class Ross A. McGinnis served as an M2 .50-caliber Machine Gunner in Adhamiyah, Northeast Baghdad, Iraq. During an insurgent attack, an enemy threw a grenade into the vehicle. McGinnis immediately yelled “grenade” and covered it with his body. The resulting explosion mortally wounded McGinnis, but he saved the lives of the other four Soldiers in the vehicle. Read more on his Medal of Honor here.
Staff Sergeant Travis Atkins served as a squad leader in Abu Samak, Iraq. During an encounter with two suspicious individuals behaving erratically, Atkins left his vehicle to search them. When they became aggressive, Atkins engaged one of them in hand-to-hand combat. As he attempted to wrestle the enemy’s hands behind his back, the insurgent reached for something under his clothes. Atkins immediately grappled the insurgent and took him to the ground, away from his fellow soldiers. The enemy then detonated a suicide vest, killing himself and Atkins. Atkins’ sacrifice saved the three Soldiers that were with him. Read more about his Medal of Honor here.
Sergeant First Class Thomas P Payne – U.S. Army Medal of Honor Action Date October 22,2015
Sergeant First Class Thomas P. Payne served as part of a hostage rescue team in Kirkuk Province, Iraq. Payne led a combined assault to clear the two buildings holding the hostages. After clearing the first building and securing the 38 hostages, Payne left his secured position to assist the second team. Exposing himself to hostile fire, Payne maneuvered to the other structure. He then climbed a ladder to a rooftop partially engulfed in flames to engage enemy fighters below.
Next, he went back to the ground to engage the enemy through a breach hole in the building’s west side. Payne went to the main entrance and, entering amidst heavy enemy fire, smoke, flames, and heat, located the hostages. Seeing the complex locks imprisoning the hostages, Payne exited the building, traded his rifle for bolt cutters, and reentered the building. As enemy rounds continued to impact the surrounding walls, he and his team began to cut the locks. Lack of oxygen forced Payne to exit the building, but after catching his breath, Payne reentered the building, cut the rest of the locks, and freed the 37 hostages. He then facilitated their evacuation and reentered the collapsing building to ensure no one remained inside. Payne’s actions were instrumental in liberating 75 hostages killing 20 enemy combatants. Read the whole Medal of Honor citation here.
In conclusion, the stories of these seven heroes deserve remembrance. Without the courage, bravery, valor, and sacrifice of our military, the world would be a much different place. These seven heroes demonstrated those characteristics well above and beyond the call of duty. But they aren’t the only ones. Check out these 18 Medal of Honor recipients from the war in Afghanistan.