SFC Paul R. Smith Awarded Medal of Honor

Iraq hero joins hallowed group (St. Petersburg Times)

Photo: SFC Paul Smith (right) is the first soldier from the Iraq war to get the medal, which hadn't been awarded since 1993. Sgt. 1st Class Paul R. Smith, who spent his boyhood in Tampa, became a man in the Army and died outside Baghdad defending his outnumbered soldiers from an Iraqi attack, will receive America’s highest award for bravery. President Bush will present the Medal of Honor to Smith’s wife, Birgit, and their children Jessica, 18, and David, 10, at a ceremony at the White House, possibly in March. The official announcement will come soon, but the Pentagon called Mrs. Smith with the news Tuesday afternoon. “We had faith he was going to get it,” Mrs. Smith said from her home in Holiday, “but the phone call was shocking. It was overwhelming. My heart was racing, and I got sweaty hands. I yelled, “Oh, yes!’ … I’m still all shaky. “People know what’s he’s done … people know that to get a Medal of Honor you have to be a special person or do something really great.”

What Paul Smith did on April 4, 2003, was climb aboard an armored vehicle and, manning a heavy machine gun, take it upon himself to cover the withdrawal of his men from a suddenly vulnerable position. Smith was fatally wounded by Iraqi fire, the only American to die in the engagement. “I’m in bittersweet tears,” said Smith’s mother, Janice Pvirre. “The medal isn’t going to bring him back. … It makes me sad that all these other soldiers have died. They are all heroes.”

With the medal, Smith joins a most hallowed society. Since the Civil War, just 3,439 men (and one woman) have received the Medal of Honor. It recognizes only the most extreme examples of bravery – those “above and beyond the call of duty.” That oft-heard phrase has a specific meaning: The medal cannot be given to those who act under orders, no matter how heroic their actions. Indeed, according to Library of Congress defense expert David F. Burrelli, it must be “the type of deed which, if he had not done it, would not subject him to any justified criticism.” From World War II on, most of the men who received the medal died in the action that led to their nomination. There are but 129 living recipients.

Smith is the first soldier from the Iraq war to receive the medal, which had not previously been awarded since 1993. In that year, two Army Special Forces sergeants were killed in Somalia in an action described in the bestselling book Black Hawk Down.

The Medal is so revered in the service that anyone wearing it, regardless of rank, is entitled to a salute from any non-recipient, regardless of their rank.

The Army has a compilation of the citations for all Medal recipients. It’s a chilling read.

The Times has a special interactive section on SFC Smith, also linked from the photo above. It’s appropriately entitled, “The last full measure of devotion.”

See also:

Blackfive, First OIF Medal of Honor Recipient Announced
Donald Sensing, Army NCO to be awarded Medal of Honor

Phil Carter, An American hero

FILED UNDER: Iraq War, Military Affairs, , , , , , , , ,
James Joyner
About James Joyner
James Joyner is Professor and Department Head of Security Studies at Marine Corps University's Command and Staff College. He's a former Army officer and Desert Storm veteran. Views expressed here are his own. Follow James on Twitter @DrJJoyner.


  1. DBub says:

    Great story. The Special Forces sergeants mentioned in the story are Gary Gordon and Randy Shughart.

  2. C. Mackall Jr. says:

    Paul and I served together during the first gulf war. After the war, Paul married my wifes sister. I am extremly proud that my brother in law has been awarded the Medal of Honor. I wish he would be able to see how proud everyone is of him. Everyone that knew Paul from when he was in the engineers battalion knew he was a stand up guy. What he did in Iraq during this war was nothing new to his extended family. He was a can do/will do type guy. He made a great father for Jessica and a great husband for Birgit. Trust me, when they decided to award this medal to Paul he truly deserved it. So from one of the old crew out of Christensen Barracks Bindlach, Germany; You’ll always be remebered.