For the first time, an American who served in Iraq has received the Medal of Honor, the nation's highest award for bravery in battle. The recipient was a soldier who gave his life to save others.
His name was Paul Ray Smith. He was an Army sergeant in Iraq, a career soldier, and a hero. "We count ourselves blessed to have soldiers like Sergeant Smith who put their lives on the line to advance the cause of freedom and protect the American people," said Mr. Bush.
Two years after his death, Paul Ray Smith was remembered at the White House. With his wife and two children standing nearby, President Bush paid tribute to the first Medal of Honor recipient of the war in Iraq. "The Medal of Honor is the highest award for bravery a president can bestow. It is given for gallantry above and beyond the call of duty in the face of enemy attack," he said.
He recalled how Sergeant Smith defended his men against a surprise attack on April 4, 2003, just days before the fall of Baghdad.
They were working in a courtyard near the Baghdad Airport when members of Saddam Hussein's Republican Guard opened fire.
Sergeant Smith led a counter attack. With many of his men injured, he climbed on a damaged armored vehicle, and started firing its machine gun. "Sergeant Smith continued to fire until he took a fatal round to the head. His actions in that courtyard saved the lives of more than 100 American soldiers," he said.
Several of them were at the White House for the award ceremony, along with a few past Medal of Honor recipients.
It is a select group. Only three such Medals have been awarded since the Vietnam War. And President Bush noted that more than half of those bestowed since World War II were presented posthumously to soldiers killed while performing such heroic acts.