President Trump on Friday awarded the Medal of Honor to Army Sgt. Maj. Thomas Payne for his role in freeing 75 hostages from dozens of ISIS terrorists in Iraq.
The October 2015 operation near Kirkuk killed Payne’s Army Ranger colleague Joshua Wheeler, whose widow attended the ceremony at the White House.
“It was one of the largest and most daring rescue missions in American history,” Trump said in honoring Payne, who deployed 17 times for post-9/11 wars.
Trump regaled his Sept. 11 audience with an account of Payne’s heroism in freeing the Kurdish hostages. The Islamic State group had intended to slaughter the captives and bury them in freshly dug graves.
After freeing one group from a building, Payne and his men fought their way into a second building.
“He and his team climbed up ladders to the roof and opened up fire on the enemy. Multiple ISIS fighters detonated suicide vests, ripping a portion of the building into pieces,” Trump said.
Payne cut two locks on the second building and freed people as the building burned.
He “received orders to evacuate but he refused to do so. He didn’t want to leave anyone behind,” Trump said.
Twenty ISIS fighters were killed in the operation.
The medal was awarded days after Trump announced the US would lower the number of US troops in Iraq from 5,200 to 3,000 by the end of September. The US still has some troops in Syria remaining from anti-ISIS operations.