Friday, March 18, 2005

First Victoria Cross Since the Falklands

The Victoria Cross is the UK's highest award for bravery, and is a lot harder to receive than our Medal of Honor (which has been deflated by awarding it to, for example, successful fighter pilots ala the German Knight's Cross, which is unfortunate as many of the actions it's awarded for are incredibly desperate). Private Johnson Beharry, a 25 year old British soldier born in Grenada, is the first recipient since the Falklands campaign and the first living recipient since Vietnam (Commonwealth troops are also eligible; the Vietnam awards went to Australian soldiers). We can disagree about the war, but Private Johnson's act of bravery is one we can all admire (Ladies, he's cute, too! Check out his picture here!).

His company, the citation says, had been ordered to extract a foot patrol pinned down by small arms and heavy machine-gun fire and an attack by an improvised explosive device and RPGs.

As they passed a roundabout on their way to the pinned-down patrol, his platoon noticed that the road ahead was empty of civilians and traffic, an indicator of a potential ambush. The platoon commander ordered the vehicle to halt so that he could assess the situation. The vehicle was then hit by RPGs.

The citation continues: "As a result of this ferocious initial volley of fire, both the platoon commander and the vehicle's gunner were incapacitated by concussion and other wounds, and a number of the soldiers in the rear of the vehicle were also wounded."

Pte Beharry had no means of communication with the turret crew or any of the other Warriors around him. He did not know if his commander or crew were still alive or how serious their injuries were.

"On his own initiative, he closed his driver's hatch and moved forward through the ambush position to try to establish some form of communications, halting just short of a barricade across the road."

The Warrior was hit again by RPGs. It caught fire and filled with thick, noxious smoke.

Pte Beharry, continues the citation, "assessed that his best course of action to save the lives of his crew was to push through, out of the ambush. He drove his Warrior directly through the barricade, not knowing if there were mines or improvised explosive devices placed there to destroy his vehicle. By doing this he was able to lead the remaining five Warriors behind him towards safety."

Another RPG hit the Warrior. "The flames and force of the blast passed directly over him, down the driver's tunnel, further wounding the semi-conscious gunner in the turret."

Pte Beharry was "forced to drive the vehicle along the rest of the ambushed route, some 1,500 metres, with his hatch opened up and his head exposed to enemy fire, all the time with no communications with any other vehicle."

A 7.62mm bullet penetrated his helmet and remained lodged on its inner surface.

Pte Beharry then climbed on to the turret of the burning vehicle and, "seemingly oblivious to the incoming enemy small arms fire, manhandled his wounded platoon commander out of the turret, off the vehicle and to the safety of a nearby Warrior".

Remounting his burning vehicle for the third time, he drove it through "a complex chicane and into the security of the defended perimeter of the outpost, thus denying it to the enemy". Once inside, he collapsed from physical and mental exhaustion.

A few weeks later, on June 11, another Warrior convoy he was leading was ambushed. A grenade detonated six inches from his head.

"With the blood from his head injury obscuring his vision, Beharry managed to continue to control his vehicle and forcefully reversed the Warrior out of the ambush," says the citation. He then collapsed, unconscious.

The Grenada-born private was paraded by the top brass yesterday among his comrades in the 1st Battalion, the Princess of Wales's Royal Regiment, and other recipients of high military honours.

"I was just doing my job. I was just thinking of the guys in the vehicle and the guys behind me," he said.

He was asked what was going through his mind at the time. "An RPG", Pte Beharry promptly replied.

The US is reportedly very close to awarding a posthumous Medal of Honor for an Iraq action; more on that when it happens.

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