Matthew Loheide, soldier from LI, awarded Silver Star
In a rocky, forbidding valley in Afghanistan, Sgt. 1st Class Matthew Loheide's platoon was pinned down, taking mortar rounds and gunfire from a ridge above.
Unless he put his own fears aside and found a way out for his soldiers, none of them, including Loheide, might have made it out alive.
For his actions on that June day in 2010, when Loheide got his platoon to a safer location, he was awarded one of the nation's highest military honors, the Silver Star, during a Friday ceremony at Fort Campbell, Ky.
"It is very, very humbling," said Loheide, 31, who grew up in Patchogue, and now lives in Clarksville, Tenn., with his wife, Marianne, and daughter Annabella.
He said he accepted the award on behalf of other members of his platoon, and Staff Sgt. Keith Bishop, a high school buddy from Medford, who was killed in Afghanistan eight months earlier.
The incident that led to the award came after a bomb exploded amid his platoon when members of the 2nd Battalion, 327 Infantry Regiment, 101st Airborne Division were trying to secure Afghanistan's troubled Ghaki Valley, near the Pakistan border.
Although he was injured and insurgents peppered the area around him, Loheide managed to save his fellow soldiers and help guide helicopters to evacuate five of his platoon mates, according to a Pentagon account.
As one of the rescue helicopters lifted off with a wounded soldier aboard, a rocket-propelled grenade landed in the spot the helicopter had just vacated.
He said a commemorative bracelet he had been wearing in Bishop's honor almost had been lost in the firefight.
"We were pretty much surrounded, and had been under fire all day," Loheide said.
The Silver Star is the Army's third highest award for valor. Only the Medal of Honor and the Distinguished Service Cross are higher.
The award, granted by the president, cited Loheide "for conspicuous gallantry and intrepidity in connection with military operations against an armed hostile force," his citation read.
"He did this because of all of you here today: his fellow soldiers and warriors," Maj. Gen. Leslie Smith told the crowd during the Fort Campbell ceremony.
The explosion left Loheide with a traumatic brain injury, and has sapped his short-term memory. He works with the Army's Warrior Transition Command, which assists wounded soldiers in their recovery.
"The sense of pain was overbearing," Loheide said of the explosion's effect. "It definitely created obstacles a lot of us have had to overcome to live our lives."
"Knowing how they put forth so much, and my grandfather came back and raised a family, it felt great to be carrying on the work of my grandfather," Loheide said. With Tania Lopez