Speeches and Statements

Murphy Speech to the Oviedo Rotary Club on Efforts to Honor Alwyn Cashe

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Washington, March 10, 2021 | comments
Good morning, everybody. John, thank you for the introduction. And thank you to you and Shirley for inviting me. It’s great to be here with the Rotary Club of Oviedo.

You’ve graciously asked me to speak about someone who is near and dear to my heart. It’s a person I never had the privilege to meet, but a person whose life and legacy inspire me very deeply, and a person whom I’ve tried to honor in different ways since I came to Congress in 2017.

I’m talking, of course, about the late, great Alwyn Cashe.

Alwyn was central Florida through and through. He was born in Sanford in 1970. He was raised in Oviedo and he went to Oviedo High School, enlisting in the Army after he graduated. In 2005, he was laid to rest at a cemetery in Sanford.

Alwyn was the youngest of nine children, five girls and four boys. When Alwyn was a young boy, his father passed away. His mother worked on an assembly line and later as a custodian at Florida Tech, which—as you know—is now the University of Central Florida. She passed away in 2015. Unfortunately, her youngest child pre-deceased her.

For me, Alwyn represents what is best about our community and our country. We live in a society where the term “hero” is used often, and sometimes a bit too casually. But Alwyn is a hero in the purest and most profound sense. He’s the real thing.

So let me tell how you I first came to learn about Alwyn Cashe.

When you’re a Member of Congress, one of the nice things you’re able to do is to introduce legislation to name U.S. post offices in your district after distinguished men and women from your community who have passed away.

I wanted to name the post office in Oviedo, and so my office began researching whether there was someone who was especially deserving of the honor. During our research, we learned about Alwyn Cashe—and I confess that, like most Americans, I had never heard of him or what he did before that moment.

Well, what we discovered took our breath away—and I will tell it to you now. I’ve told Alwyn’s story many times and it never fails to fill me with a sense of awe and a sense of gratitude. It’s a story that makes the English language feel inadequate, because words like “courage” and “bravery” cannot do this man justice.

On October 17, 2005, Alwyn—who by then had earned the rank of Sergeant First Class— was on his second deployment to Iraq. While on patrol in a province north of Baghdad, the Bradley Fighting Vehicle carrying him, other American soldiers, and the squad’s interpreter struck an improvised explosive device.

The blast instantly killed the interpreter and ruptured the vehicle’s fuel cell. Flames engulfed the vehicle. Initially only slightly injured, but covered in fuel, Alwyn descended into the hull, extracted the driver, who was on fire, and extinguished the flames. At this point, multiple soldiers remained in the vehicle, one of whom managed to open the rear hatch. Alwyn rushed to the back of the vehicle, reached into the hot flames, and started pulling out soldiers. His fuel-soaked uniform caught fire and the flames spread quickly over his body.

Despite what must have been terrible pain, Alwyn returned to the vehicle twice more to rescue his soldiers—all while he was still on fire and exposed to enemy gunfire. By the time Alwyn extracted all his fellow soldiers from the vehicle, his injuries were the most severe. Second- and third-degree burns covered most of his body. Nevertheless, he refused to be evacuated until all his soldiers were medevacked out before him.

When he arrived at the U.S. military hospital in Iraq, Alwyn was still fully conscious. He tried to fight off the nurses, insisting that they treat the other soldiers first. Despite efforts to save his life at hospitals abroad and in the states, Alwyn eventually succumbed to his wounds on November 8, 2005—surrounded by his biological family and his Army family.

After his passing, Alwyn received the Silver Star, the third-highest combat award that the Army confers, behind only the Medal of Honor and the Distinguished Service Cross.

Based on this incredible story, I filed a bill in January of 2018 to name the Oviedo post office after Alwyn. That bill was approved by the U.S. House of Representatives, by the U.S. Senate, and signed into law by the President of the United States.

In May of 2019, we held a beautiful ceremony at the Amphitheatre at Oviedo on the Park to unveil the plaque that is now adorns the wall of the Alwyn Crendall Cashe post office on 83 Drive Geneva Drive in Oviedo. The ceremony was attended by Alwyn’s large and loving family, including his older sister Kasinal, whom my office has become very close to and who is just an incredible women.

It was also attended by many of Alwyn’s comrades-in-arms from the Army, all of whom revere Alwyn. One of the soldiers who was there with his family was retired Sergeant Gary Mills—whom Alwyn rescued from the vehicle that fateful day.

It was an incredible, and incredibly moving, day. But, for me, naming a post office after Alwyn did not feel like enough.

In the course of learning about Alwyn’s story, I also learned that, soon after he died, an effort was begun by his family and friends, and by servicemembers and veterans who had heard of his legendary story, to get Alwyn’s Silver Star upgraded to the Medal of Honor.

I decided that it was appropriate for me to join this effort and to see if I could be helpful. There was no doubt in my mind that Alwyn had earned the Medal of Honor. As one expert on military awards has said about what Alwyn did: “It’s the most perfect example of a Medal of Honor I’ve ever seen.”

So, in October of 2019, I authored a letter to the Secretary of Defense at the time, who was Mark Esper. I was joined on the letter by two of my congressional colleagues, Michael Waltz of Florida and Dan Crenshaw of Texas, both of whom are Republicans.

We all have national security backgrounds. I served as a national security specialist at the Department of Defense. Congressman Waltz was an officer in the Army Special Forces. And Congressman Crenshaw was an officer in the Navy SEALs. They had heard about Alwyn’s story as well, and so we joined forces.

In our letter, we asked Secretary Esper to carefully review Alwyn’s case and we expressed our personal view that his actions warranted an upgrade to the Medal of Honor.

The process within the Department of Defense for awarding military medals is very regimented and very closely-held, as it should be, and we didn’t hear back for about 10 months. But on August 24, 2020, we received a letter from Secretary Esper.

Amazingly, he wrote this: “After giving the nomination careful consideration, I agree that SFC Cashe’s actions merit award of the Medal of Honor.”

The Secretary correctly noted that, before he could recommend to the President that he award Alwyn the Medal of Honor, Congress needed to enact legislation to waive a federal law that generally requires a Medal of Honor to be awarded within five years of the actions that form the basis for the award.

So, on September 16th of last year—my birthday—I filed bipartisan legislation to waive the five-year time limit. It quickly passed the House, passed the Senate, and was signed into law by the President on December 4th.

One complication is that, by this point, Secretary Esper was no longer the Secretary of Defense. But we understand from public reporting that his successor—Christopher Miller—also recommended that the President award Alwyn the Medal of Honor.

That bring us to the present day. We have a new President and a new Secretary of Defense—and now we are just waiting and hoping and expecting that they will announce that Alwyn Cashe has earned the Medal of Honor.

When they do, it will be the culmination of a lot of hard work by a lot of people. And most importantly, it will be a fitting and long-overdue tribute to a man whose name—Alwyn Cashe—should be known to every American.

Thanks again for having me. 
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