Hero hailed by the men he saved.


Hero hailed by men he saved
Forty soldiers give string of dog tags to his cousin in Army medal cermony


"We had an angel watching over us, and his name was Oscar."
That was the sentiment of the buddies Oscar Sanchez saved and of their families, who gathered about 500 strong at the Fort Lewis amphitheater in Washington state to honor their fallen comrade one more time last week.

Sanchez's cousins, Vincente and Martha Padilla of Modesto, and their three children were the guests of honor for welcome-home and medals ceremonies for members of the 1st Brigade, 25th Infantry Division, just back from Iraq.

Sanchez's commanding officer, Lt. Col. Erik Kurilla, cited the fallen soldier's bravery. He related how on Dec. 29, Sanchez had stood up from behind the protection of a barrier in order to fire his weapon at a suicide bomber bent on crashing an explosives-laden truck into the Army compound in Mosul, Iraq.

Sanchez kept firing and the bomber blew up virtually in front and below him. But the bomb was outside the barrier instead of inside the base. Fourteen soldiers were wounded. Sanchez died.

Padilla said one part of Kurilla's tribute always will be etched in her mind and heart.

"He said how 'Oscar chose to give his life to save his buddies knowing he had another choice' where he could have saved himself."

The family was given a replica of the Bronze star Sanchez wore to his grave. But tears flowed freely during a more intimate tribute.

Forty of the 43 soldiers who credit Sanchez with saving their lives, (the three not present have already been transferred) personally presented Padilla with a string containing their G.I. dog tags.

Each man had tears in his eyes as they put their right arm out to show a bracelet with Sanchez's name on it. Sgt. Frank Cortez said, "Every day of our lives, we will thank him."

Padilla said soldiers who had been wounded in the bombing came up to say thanks, one tapping his leg to explain his limp and saying, "Titanium."

Parents came up, too, she said. They always said pretty much the same thing. "Thank you for Oscar. Tell his dad thanks for giving us such a son."

The unidentified woman who dubbed Sanchez an angel was one of many who offered personal tributes.

Ten of Sanchez's Army buddies want to make the trip to Modesto to honor him further at a Welcome Home the Heroes ceremony on Veterans Day.

When Padilla couldn't find an organization to pay for their plane tickets, she decided to buy them herself, "even if it means going into debt."

Sanchez's Army family, she said, has to be here. Many already have made the pilgrimage to his grave.

Looking at the dog tags on her kitchen table and the wall behind it that pays tribute to her own son Julian, who is in the Marines, Padilla controls her desire to cry again. Her eyes water, but she shakes her head 'no.'

She said she often has referred to herself as Mexican in the past, even though she has been a U.S. citizen for many years.

"My dad started working here as a bracero when he was 14. A rancher brought my whole family here and gave us our green cards. I've lived in Modesto since I was 9 months old.

"Now we've given too much," she said. "We're Americans."

And the family will give even more. Her 14-year-old son Gerardo already has indicated he will join the military as soon as he can. He already hangs out with Marine recruiters at fairs and special events.

Padilla says she won't sign a waiver to allow Gerardo to join early like she did for Julian at age 17.

Now 21, Julian, will be going to Iraq in February. When he was in Afghanistan, Padilla couldn't sleep.

"I was either praying or looking for news on the Internet."

She said she is keeping a positive outlook.

"I have my son. But I've talked to him and I know he would do the same thing Oscar did. He tells me he won't let his buddies down. I'll enjoy him for as long as God lets me have him."

That was one crazy day.....following the truck bomb on COP Tampa was a coordinated ambush by the AIF.....it was nuts...dude's dressed in all black running around with RPG's and BKC's.......hell of a fire-fight.
What it doesn't say in the article is that Kurilla is (unless my knowledge of medical science is a bit off) wearing at least one cast after having been shot in both legs and an arm.

The truck actually detonated inside the barriers, contrary to what the article said. The opposition were nice enough to videotape it, Kurilla showed me the video when I reported in three days later with my tanks. (Someone decided enough was enough, and to call in some heavy hitters) What might be the case was that the chap shot so that instead of going through the gap to the building, he mounted the barriers. The truck literally jumped over the concrete barriers, came to a halt, and blew.

This photo was taken a couple of days after the attack. COP Tampa was (is, I guess, I think the Iraqi Army currently mans it) actually just a largeish apartment building on the main road from Baghdad that someone decided to take over.

The truck detonated just in front of the right hand Stryker.

Here's another shot, the crater is almost a meter deep. The body was found three hundered meters away. Well, what was left of it.

Why wasn't he cited for the MOH CT?
Probably because his actions didn't meet the criteria. MOH is pretty tough. In the final analysis, the soldier was doing his job, defending his post, and his own life.

Beneath the MOH, you have the DSC and Silver Star. (DSM is an odd case. It ranks between DSC and SS, but while it can be awarded to soldiers in wartime, it is more ordinarily associated with 'great responsibility', such as generals.) The Bronze Star comes in two flavours, a with V device (Valour), for actions in combat, and without, for 'exceptionally meritorious service', as opposed to 'valour in a single specific incident'. Pretty much anyone getting killed in Iraq is awarded a BSM (Without V) posthumously by default. I earned mine by surviving, but non-posthumous ones are a lot harder to come by. I can't find any specific reference to Pfc Sanchez being awarded a Bronze/V, but that doesn't mean it wasn't awarded. There is one more, lower, award for valour, which is the Army Commendation w/V. (It can also be awarded without V). As an example of a Silver-Star level award, one of our Fire Support guys was manning a .50 cal during an attack. He was shot in the arm, breaking it, and was receiving medical aid when they were attacked again. He re-manned the .50, and continued the fight. Just to add another one in the comparison mix, the Soldier's Medal is considered higher than the BSM, but it's a peacetime only award.

I don't know the exact specifics of location, timing, etc, so I don't know what is really 'appropriate' for this scenario. I was one or two hundered miles South of there at the time, blissfully ignorant of the ongoing events up North, and expecting a nice, quiet wind-down at the end of my tour.

Thanks for the background info, C_T. I love getting the 360-degree perspective.