BENNING, Ga. - At 63 years old, Harry Conner has found his purpose
in life ... to ride his bicycle around the country and tell people
about a true American hero.
After eight years in the United
States Army, Conner left the service as a staff sergeant in 1980. He
entered the job market and worked managerial positions until one
“I made a quick stop at [a convenience store]
and there, outside of the store, was an article about
Sgt. 1st Class Alwyn Cashe (image left).
I remember reading the article and crying.”
published Feb. 4, 2011, in the Orlando Sentinel in Florida, told of
the heroic actions Cashe displayed while deployed to Iraq in 2005.
Cashe's sister, Kasinal Cashe White, recalled the incident to the
While on patrol, Cashe, of Oviedo, Florida,
was in the lead vehicle when an improvised explosive device
detonated near his vehicle, Oct. 17, 2005. As fuel leaked from the
vehicle, it caught on fire. Cashe and his Soldiers were trapped
inside. Despite being covered in fuel, he worked to find an exit
point and immediately began pulling the Soldiers out, one by one, as
his body was being consumed by flames.
By the time Cashe was
able to be medically evacuated from the area, burns had covered more
than 80 percent of his body. He would eventually be transported to
Brooke Army Medical Center, the Department of Defense's only
stateside Level I trauma center, in Fort Sam Houston, Texas. Despite
the care Cashe received at the DoD Burn Center, on Nov. 8, 2005,
three weeks after sacrificing his life to save his Soldiers, he died
as a result of his injuries.
He was awarded the Silver Star
for his actions, the military's third-highest decoration for valor,
awarded for gallantry in action against an enemy of the United
States. Cashe also received a Bronze Star and Purple Heart during
Conner immediately felt a connection to the Soldier. Cashe served
with Company A, 1st Battalion, 15th Infantry Regiment, 3rd Infantry
Division, at Fort Benning, Georgia. Conner, too, served in the 3rd
Infantry Division. He was assigned to the 1st Battalion, 10th Field
Artillery Regiment, but was serving as the liaison noncommissioned
officer for 1st Bn., 15th Inf. Regt., during his time in
Schweinfurt, Germany, between 1974 and 1977. In 1978, Conner was
assigned to Fort Sill, Oklahoma, as a drill sergeant. Cashe, too,
served as a drill sergeant during his career.
was ironic ... At the time of his death, the 3rd Infantry Division was
[being relieved-in-place] by the 101st Airborne Division, which I
had also served in,” Conner explained.
Reading the story
about this young man's life, Conner said he immediately felt the
need to connect with his family. He e-mailed the article's author
and was put in touch with the Cashe family.
Harry Conner poses with his bike, "Old Huffy," at the National 9/11
Memorial at "Ground Zero" in New York, in the spring of 2014.
Conner, who served in the United States Army from 1972 to 1980, has
devoted his life to bicycling throughout the country in order to
tell people the story of Sgt. 1st Class Alwyn Cashe, who died Nov.
8, 2005, as the result of injuries sustained Oct. 17, 2005, when the
vehicle he was traveling in struck an IED. Cashe, covered in fuel,
pulled his Soldiers from the burning vehicle, sustaining burns to
more than 80 percent of his body. (Courtesy photo provided by Harry
The rest is history.
Conner said he has rallied
with the family and Cashe's leaders, who continue to push
for Cashe to receive the Medal of Honor. He also began
touring the country on his bicycle, speaking to those who
will listen and telling them of a man, a Soldier, a husband
and a father whose actions on a dusty, 3 and one-half mile
stretch of road outside of Forward Operating Base McKenzie,
in Samarra, Iraq, were nothing less than heroic.
April of this year, Conner left Sanford, Florida, the final
resting place of Cashe. On June 12, he arrived at Ground
Zero, in New York, but not without complications.
his first day of the spring ride, Conner was hospitalized
for heat exhaustion.
“The doctor said I'm too old,
but what does he know?” joked Conner, who continued on his
trip. Although there were a few mechanical problems with the
bicycle, he never quit.
“I retired to do nothing but
this,” said Conner, who moved from South Dakota to Orlando,
Florida. “I plan on doing bike rides until I see Sergeant
[First Class] Cashe is awarded the Medal of Honor or when
Conner will once again set out on another
ride, starting in Sanford, Florida, and traveling to Kelley
Hill, home of the 1st Bn., 15th Inf. Regt., where Cashe
served. He plans to depart by Sept. 21, heat permitting, and
expects to arrive at Fort Benning in the beginning of
October “depending on the weather and terrain.”
Following his stop at Fort Benning, Conner will bicycle to
Fort Stewart, Georgia, where the 3rd Infantry Division is
Conner's mission remains the same —
tell people about the life and service of Sgt. 1st Class Alwyn Cashe.
“In the three-and-a-half years I've been
doing this, I have not met a single person who had anything
bad to say about him, not even his trainees,” Conner
explained. “I was a drill sergeant for two-and-a-half years
and they hated me!”
At the end of each cycle,
trainees vote for the drill sergeant they feel best made
them a Soldier and, Conner said, during one cycle more than
60 percent of them chose him. At the time, Cashe was the
senior drill sergeant and did not have as much interaction
with the young Soldiers but the time he did spend with them
made a lasting impact.
“What kind of respect have you
earned to have trainees say that about you?” Conner said.
“He was the epitome of a Soldier and leader. One hell of a
Conner's efforts involving Alwyn
Cashe being recognized with the Medal of Honor can be
followed at Facebook.
cared about his people. That's what made him so special. He
was so passionate,” recalled Maj. James “Jimmy” Hathaway.
“He was a father figure to the kids who worked for him. As a
platoon sergeant, he actually filled that role while
continuing to complete the mission.”
Cashe's company commander in Company A, 1st Bn., 15th Inf.
Regt., at the time Cashe was injured during the company's
deployment to Iraq. Hathaway now works a short drive from
the company's headquarters on Kelley Hill, serving as the
operations officer in charge at for the Airborne and Ranger
Training Battalion at Fort Benning, Georgia.
remembers the leader who disregarded his safety for the sake
of others in his company and continues to fight, alongside
others who served with or knew of Cashe, for him to be
awarded the Medal of Honor.
All around the country,
there are men who recall the type of leader and Soldier
Cashe was and who will never forget that fateful day.
“He was ...a country boy. Just a down-to-earth leader
who everyone respected,” said Garett Alvey. Alvey was a
sergeant and company sniper with 1st Bn., 15th Inf. Regt.,
and had interacted with Cashe on various missions the unit
conducted in and around FOB McKenzie.
On Oct. 17,
2005, Alvey was one of the Soldiers called on to help
evacuate the wounded following the IED detonation. Alvey
said the images, some too gruesome for anyone other than
those there to comprehend, remain with him to this day. He
is currently working as a senior consultant for the United
States Marine Corps at the Mountain Warfare Training Center
“Not to take away from any of the
leadership I have had, but I haven't really seen the type of
leadership in others as I saw in Sergeant 1st Class Cashe,”
Alvey said. “He really cared about everyone. He mentored his
men and was always there for them.”
Cashe was a man
“who always had a hunting story to tell,” said Maj. Leon
Matthias, Jr., who worked side-by-side with Cashe. Then-2nd
Lt. Matthias served as his platoon leader, after Cashe's
first platoon leader, then-1st Lt. James Ryan, had to
redeploy for training.
Five months into the
deployment, Ryan received word from their battalion
commander that he would need to return to the United States
in order to complete his degree. As a sergeant first class,
he had been accepted into Officer Candidate School with 90
credit hours but, by regulation, had to complete the
remainder of his degree before achieving the rank of
“I felt guilty about leaving my guys over
there...I sat down with Cashe and I said ‘hey look, I'm going
to go talk to the [battalion operations officer] and the
battalion commander about staying,” Ryan said.
Cashe immediately interjected and told his platoon leader
that he needed to fulfill his duties in the classroom,
telling Ryan that he would “be a fool” for staying and not
finishing his education. Ultimately, Ryan returned to the
states and, in the middle of working on his degree, learned
about the incident that ultimately took Cashe's life.
“That's weighed on me all of these years,” explained
Ryan, who is now retired from the Army.
leading the platoon on what would be Cashe's last patrol and
even in moments of sheer terror and uncertainty, Cashe
“always placed the mission and the Soldiers before himself.”
“He was a very charismatic leader,” said Matthias. “He
knew how to motivate each Soldier — subordinate, peers and
Matthias said Cashe, above all, believed in
service above self and was never concerned with personal or
Despite his charismatic selfless
attitude, Cashe could, also, be stubborn. “He was very
stubborn and had a lot of pride,” Ryan said. “Honestly, it
was probably the reason he held on as long as he did and was
the last to die.”
Cashe rescued six Soldiers from
their Bradley Fighting vehicle that day. Of the six, three
died within weeks of the incident.
Staff Sgt. George
T. Alexander, Jr., of Clanton, Alabama, died Oct. 22, 2005.
Sgt. Michael “Doc” Robertson, of Houston, died Oct. 25,
2005. Spc. Darren Howe, of Beatrice, Nebraska, died Nov. 3,
Spc. Raymond Salerno III, who was also pulled
from the vehicle, died of heart failure July 14, 2006, while
under observation at Brooke Army Medical Center. Salerno had
initially made progress in his care and returned home to
Land O'Lakes, Florida, but returned to BAMC due to
complications from his injuries.
“Sergeant 1st Class
Cashe's story will continue to reside in each Soldier that
has served with,” Matthias said. “If we all make an effort
to serve each other [as he served], we would have less
problems in our communities.”
By U.S. Army Staff Sgt. Lindsey Kibler
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