For hero Ed Byers, December 8, 2012 was a test of his skills in life or death events.
After hours of hiking through the mountains of eastern Afghanistan, he and his Navy team reached its target: a one-room building where Taliban fighters were holding an American hostage.
Team member Nicolas Checque attacked a guard. Byers, trained in special warfare, ran through the door, which was covered by heavy blankets. They slowed the team’s attack.
As Byers took down the blankets, the fighters shot at him and his team. In the darkness, he saw a fighter in the corner of the room. He shot him, then saw another person crawling across the floor.
“By the time I got to him, he already had a weapon in his hand,” Byers told VOA. “I didn’t know if he was just a scared hostage or if he was the actual enemy.”
Byers called the name of the hostage -- Dr. Dilip Joseph. He was a father of four who had been teaching medical workers in Afghanistan.
Joseph answered. He was a few meters away. Byers shot another fighter, then laid on top of Joseph, shielding him from flying bullets.
“When I did that, there was another person within arm’s reach, another enemy that had a weapon and grenades and stuff that was in the corner,” Byers said. “I was able to pin that person to the wall by grabbing his throat and holding him there, as I’m laying on top of the doctor, until our team was able to come in and take care of that threat.”
The team saved Joseph. But there was a cost: Nicolas Checque had been shot in the head. He was dead.
“He died a hero, and his name will forever be etched in history as being a true American hero,” Byers said.
Yesterday, President Barack Obama gave Byers the Medal of Honor, the highest award for valor. Obama praised Byers for his heroism.
“In just minutes, by going after those guards, he had saved the lives of several teammates and that hostage,” Obama said.
The president said members of the American military who “volunteer for missions of extreme risk” with little chance for survival are very special.
Byers has been deployed to other countries 11 times. He is still in the Navy. In addition to the Medal of Honor, he has earned 18 medals.
“I followed a dream, and I never envisioned that I’d be sitting here,” he told VOA. “I got to serve with some of the greatest people on the face of the planet, and that in and of itself is a truly humbling experience.”
I’m Christopher Jones-Cruise.
VOA Pentagon Correspondent Carla Babb reported on this story. Christopher Jones-Cruise adapted her report for Learning English. Kathleen Struck was the editor.
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Words in This Story
grenade – n. a small bomb that is designed to be thrown by someone or shot from a rifle
stuff – n. informal used to refer to something when you do not need to name exactly what it is, or do not know what the name of it is
pin – v. to prevent or stop (someone or something) from moving by holding or pressing firmly against something
etch – v. to produce a pattern, design, etc., by using a powerful liquid (called an acid) to cut the surface of metal or glass; often used figuratively, as in the article above
envision – v. to think of (something that you believe might exist or happen in the future); to picture (something) in your mind