28 November 2009

“I’m not a hero. A hero is a sandwich. I’m a paratrooper.”

Baghdad, Aug. 31, 2004. Then-1LT Alvin Shell and his platoon from the 21st Military Police/Airborne had come to the aid of a disabled American convoy when they were ambushed.

When an RPG ignited ignited the diesel fuel spilling from an 18-wheeler, Shell's world was suddenly on fire. His Platoon Sgt. Wesley Spaid was engulfed in flames and screaming for help.

“I ran up the road as the fire was coming toward me,” Shell remembered. “I ran through it and got to him. I tried to pat him out. I threw dirt on him. I hugged him. I rolled on him — anything to get the fire out. But he was covered in gasoline.”

Shell didn’t give up, finally extinguishing the fire and directing his sergeant out of the flames. But as he turned to look for others to help, the wall of fire grew around him. There was no way out.

Soaked in gasoline himself, Shell grabbed his rifle with one hand, covered his face with the other, and ran into the flames.

“I lit up like a Christmas tree,” Shell said.

Some of these stories from early on never really got the attention they deserved, and the rest of this one is so amazing I don't want to excerpt any more because you really need to read it all. But I'll leave you with one more teaser.

“I was in excruciating pain,” Shell explained. “The pain in my leg was unbearable. I felt like I couldn’t do it any more. I was done. I wasn’t doing any more physical therapy.

I was complaining, and this kid, maybe 19 years old, told me he wished he had a leg. And I look over, and he didn’t have a leg. And I felt so terrible.

He told me, ‘For the time you can’t run, don’t worry about it. But for the times that you can run, run. For the times you can walk, walk straight. Give it 100 percent.’

And that’s what I do.”

You've got to read the whole thing.

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