April 4, 2005


The story of Sgt. Smith's last hours: President Bush has awarded the first Medal of Honor to a soldier in the Iraq war. (Mark Sappenfield, 4/05/05, The Christian Science Monitor)

The last time Sgt. 1st Class Paul Smith had slept for any length of time was two days before, and for the men of his platoon, the hours in between had passed only with teeth-grinding tension.

Just the previous night, there had been the long, slow haul to Baghdad through hours so dark that even night-vision goggles were useless. Nose-to-tail, their convoy had crept across the Iraqi marshes amid fizzing bullets and the pop of indiscriminate gunfire, hemmed in their one-lane road by the landscape, the enemy, and the unyielding blackness.

Yet when morning broke and B Company of the 11th Engineers arrived unscathed at Saddam Airport - some even snapping photos along the way - Sergeant Smith was still uneasy. Things were too quiet, and the airport's high walls obscured the battlefield around him.

Like almost every choice he made, Smith's next decision was straight from the military textbook - punching through a wall with a bulldozer to look around. Yet it set in motion events that would eventually claim his life as he stood in the turret of a crippled vehicle, holding at bay almost single-handedly an advancing force of as many as 100 Iraqis.

When President Bush presented Smith's family with the Medal of Honor at the White House Monday, exactly two years after Smith's death, he honored the 33-year-old sergeant for what he and others in the military have deemed one of the most valorous acts ever performed by an American soldier.

Posted by Orrin Judd at April 4, 2005 5:50 PM
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