WASHINGTON : A US soldier who defied an Afghan Taliban ambush to save a comrade and refused to let another die alone joined Tuesday an exclusive group to receive America’s top military honour.
Kyle White, a former paratrooper, became the seventh living recipient of the Medal of Honour from the Afghan and Iraq wars for his actions during a fierce firefight in a notorious “ambush ally.”
Then aged 20, Sergeant White and his colleagues were outnumbered and pinned down in the open on a steep mountain pass by a superior Taliban force in November 2007 in Nuristan province.
White, a platoon radio operator with the 173rd Airborne Brigade, was briefly knocked unconscious by an enemy round, but when he came to, spotted a badly wounded comrade, Kain Schilling, and dashed to give him help.
According to an account of the battle read out by President Barack Obama at a White House ceremony, White then ran through enemy fire to help a marine who had been severely injured.
White stayed with the marine, Sergeant Phillip Bocks, until he died from his wounds, and then noticed that Schilling had been shot again - in the leg - and ran the gamut of Taliban fire again to apply a tourniquet to stem bleeding from the wound, saving his buddy’s life.
The two friends would not know it then, but they would be reunited years later at the White House as White received his award on Tuesday.
White also exposed himself to enemy fire to reach another soldier, but found he had already died from his wounds.
White, who now works in a bank in North Carolina and suffers from Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD), then used the radio of a dead colleague to call in air strikes which eventually allowed helicopters to get in to evacuate him and his wounded colleagues.
Six US servicemen died in the clash.
“I told myself that I was going to die. You know, there’s no doubt in my mind,” White told the US military publication Stars and Stripes.
“I was not going to make it off that cliff that day. And so in my mind... it was, you know, if I am going to die, I’m going to help my battle buddies until it happens.”
Obama paid tribute to White and his fallen comrades, and said America had a duty to honour their sacrifice by helping them adapt to civilian life.
“More than six years later, he can still see the images and hear the sounds of that battle,” Obama said, before placing the blue ribboned medal around White’s neck.
“Every day he wakes up thinking about his battle buddies.”
White and Schilling wear bracelets bearing the names of comrades who did not make it home from the battle, and the new honouree told reporters at the White House he considered it even more important than his freshly minted Medal of Honour.