President Donald Trump awarded the Medal of Honor to a soldier in the U.S. Army on Friday afternoon for his role in helping to save roughly 70 captives held by the Islamic State for execution back in 2015. The president referred to the mission, which involved freeing Kurdish prisoners, as “one of the largest and most daring rescue missions in American history.”
Sergeant Major Thomas P. Payne, 36, received the award in a ceremony at the White House on September 11, 2020, during which the president praised his actions and called him a “warrior who has devoted the last two decades to fighting the forces of terror.”
“As soon as the ramp to his helicopter went down, Pat rushed into a blistering hail of gunfire,” said Trump, explaining the mission to ceremony attendees. “Pat and his team swiftly overpowered the enemy, secured the building, and freed 38 of the hostages.”
“Then Pat received word that the rest of the assault team was facing harsh resistance in another complex,” continued Trump. “Pat turned to one of his fellow soldiers, and said, ‘Let’s get into the fight right now. Let’s get into the fight.’ He saw that the other building was on fire, and he knew more of the hostages were still trapped inside.”
Payne and his team sprung into action, said the president, explaining that they climbed to the roof of the building and opened fire on the enemy as “multiple ISIS fighters detonated suicide vests, ripping a portion of the building into pieces.”
After finding the padlock-secured metal door where the captives were being held, Payne “grabbed a pair of bolt cutters and ran through smoldering flame and smoke as bullets impacted all around him,” and cut off one of the two padlocks. He then left the area for a few seconds to grab some air, explained Trump, before running “right back into that raging blaze,” cutting the final lock and freeing the remaining hostages.
After receiving evacuation orders, he returned to the building two more times to save two other hostages, said Trump.
The day before the ceremony, Payne told reporters at the Pentagon that he doesn’t “consider” himself “a recipient,” but rather “a guardian,” according to The Washington Post. At the ceremony, the president spoke highly of Payne’s character and heroism during the rescue mission.
“Pat, you embody the righteous glory of American valor,” said the president during the ceremony. “We stand in awe of your heroic, daring, and gallant deeds. You truly went above and beyond the call of duty to earn our nation’s highest military honor.”
The White House ceremony was attended by several previous recipients of the Medal of Honor, high-ranking military officials, members of Payne’s family, including his wife and son. Ashley Wheeler, the widow of Master Sergeant Joshua Wheeler, who was killed in the 2015 mission, was also in attendance and received a standing ovation.
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