War Hero Honored by Al Villanueva Cleared to Receive Medal of Honor

Al-Villanueva-Ben-Roethlisberger

Sarah Stier/Getty Images Alejandro Villanueva #78 works to protect Pittsburgh Steelers QB Ben Roethlisberger #7 from Leonard Williams #99 of the New York Giants on September 14, 2020.

On Friday the White House announced that President Trump signed H.R. 8276, “which authorizes the President to posthumously award the Medal of Honor to Alwyn C. Cashe for acts of valor during Operation Iraqi Freedom….” The bill waives a federal law that requires a Medal of Honor to be awarded within five years of the actions that give rise to the award. In effect, it paves the way for the Department of Defense to formally recommend to the President that he award SFC Cashe the Medal of Honor.

“Now that we have enacted bipartisan legislation to remove the only obstacle standing in the way of Alwyn receiving the Medal of Honor, which the Department of Defense has already concluded he earned, I hope the President will move swiftly to announce the award,” said U.S. Rep. Stephanie Murphy, D-Fla., who co-sponsored the bill. “The story of Alwyn’s heroism has inspired so many people and I cannot wait for the day that his family will receive the nation’s highest award for combat valor on his behalf.”

While the signing of H.R. 8276 very nearly brings to a close a years-long effort to honor Cashe, Pittsburgh Steelers starting left tackle brought added attention to the initiative on September 14th, when he displayed Cashe’s name on the back of his helmet during his team’s season-opening win over the New York Giants—a nationally-televised Monday Night Football game.


Alejandro Villanueva and the Antwon Rose Jr. Controversy

Villanueva’s decision to feature Cashe’s name on his helmet was not without controversy, as in doing so he covered a helmet decal honoring police shooting victim Antwon Rose Jr., which the team said all players would wear throughout the 2020 season.

Steelers defensive captain Cameron Heyward later said he was ‘unaware’ of Villanueva’s plan to cover his helmet decal; never mind that Villanueva received permission to do so from Steelers head coach Mike Tomlin.

Villanueva was soon called out by Antwon Rose Jr.’s mother, Michelle Kenney, who took exception to the longtime offensive tackle not going along with the rest of his teammates.


Al Villanueva on His Decision to Honor Cashe

Weeks later, Villanueva revealed why he decided to pay tribute to Cashe.

“I felt that my decision to honor Sgt. First Class Alwyn Cashe was something that was very personal to me due to the fact that in the veteran community, there’s a strong push to get him a Medal of Honor…. I think that the timing was perfect due to the fact that it gave the lawmakers a little bit of momentum going forward,” he said.

Now it seems a near-certainty that the military community will see the Medal of Honor posthumously awarded to Cashe, who saved the lives of multiple soldiers by pulling them from a burning fighting vehicle. He subsequently passed away as a result of the burns that he suffered while rescuing others.

SFC Cashe was born in Sanford, Fla. and raised in Oviedo, Fla., both of which are located in Rep. Stephanie Murphy’s congressional district.

Villanueva is a graduate of West Point Military Academy and a former Army Ranger. While in the military, Villanueva did three tours of duty, serving in the Tenth Mountain Division and fighting in Kandahar Province in Afghanistan.

Villaneuva has been Pittsburgh’s starting left tackle since 2015, but he is in the final year of the contract he signed in the summer of 2017 and is scheduled to become an unrestricted free agent in 2021.

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