Until a few weeks ago, Kasinal White, sister of Iraq War hero Alwyn Cashe, had nearly given up hope that the last decade of work she spent trying to get her brother’s Silver Star upgraded would ever yield results.
“I thought I had exhausted all my options,” White said in a press conference with reporters on Tuesday. "I knew he met the criteria for the Medal of Honor. I told my kids I could not leave this world without it happening.
“And now we have two bills, hopefully, that will give Al the medal he deserves.”
On Tuesday, House lawmakers unanimously approved legislation that would allow the president to upgrade Cashe’s Silver Star to the Medal of Honor. Similar language was also included in the annual defense authorization bill earlier this summer, giving lawmakers two separate opportunities to advance the honor upgrade.
“We really want to try to get this done as swiftly as possible,” said Rep. Stephanie Murphy, D-Fla., one of the sponsors of the measure. “Kasinal and her family have been fighting for this for years. They really waited long enough.”
Cashe was killed in 2005 after suffering severe burns all over his body while trying to save fellow soldiers from a burning Bradley Fighting Vehicle following an ambush in Iraq. He was posthumously awarded the Silver Star for his rescue attempts, but advocates have long held that he should receive the military’s top honor for his battlefield heroism.
At the time of the Silver Star award, Army officials said that even though the vehicle was set ablaze by a roadside bomb, Cashe’s actions did not merit the Medal of Honor because the soldiers were not in active combat.
However, follow-on investigations found the initial reports of the attack left out enemy gunfire which raked the ground around Cashe throughout his heroic actions.
Last month, Defense Secretary Mark Esper publicly backed upgrading Cashe’s award, pending action from Congress. Under current rules, the medal must be awarded within five years of the heroic action. Murphy’s bill would waive that requirement for Cashe.
If the move is made, Cashe would become the first African American to receive the award for actions in the most recent wars.
White said her family doesn not believe discrimination was involved in the long process, in contrast to what some advocates have speculated in recent years.
“I feel the right information did not get back in time,” she said. “I think given what (Army officials) knew at the time, they did the best they could.”
With the House action, attention now shifts to the Senate. Murphy said she hasn’t heard any opposition to the measure, but also has not received any firm commitments on when a vote may occur there.
Still, both she and White are confident the final legislative move will come this year. White said she is already anticipating finally seeing her brother’s heroism properly recognized well beyond the veterans community that has been lobbying on his behalf.
“Everybody that has been on this path and remained faithful … they helped us learn about a different side of my brother,” she said. "We knew his positive and generous side, but we didn’t know about his military side and what he did.
“They’ve given us pictures we probably never would have gotten.”
Leo covers Congress, Veterans Affairs and the White House for Military Times. He has covered Washington, D.C. since 2004, focusing on military personnel and veterans policies. His work has earned numerous honors, including a 2009 Polk award, a 2010 National Headliner Award, the IAVA Leadership in Journalism award and the VFW News Media award.