Trump will also award Notre Dame football coach Lou Holtz the Presidential Medal of Freedom.
Medal of Honor
Sergeant Major Thomas Payne will receive the Medal of Honor next week for his actions during a “daring” hostage rescue operation in Kirkuk Province in Iraq, the White House announced.
Payne acted with speed, audacity, and courage in clearing the building, liberating 38 hostages. He then went to another building, dodging enemy fire, to help another team.
Payne used a ladder to climb onto the building’s roof, which was partially engulfed in flames, and engaged with enemy forces below before entering the building from ground level.
“Sergeant Payne knowingly risked his own life by bravely entering the building under intense enemy fire, enduring smoke, heat, and flames to identify the armored door imprisoning the hostages. Upon exiting, Sergeant Payne exchanged his rifle for bolt cutters and again entered the building, ignoring the enemy rounds impacting the walls around him as he cut the locks on a complex locking mechanism. His courageous actions motivated the coalition assault team members to enter the breach and assist with cutting the locks,” the White House said.
“After exiting to catch his breath, he reentered the building to make the final lock cuts, freeing 37 hostages. Sergeant Payne then facilitated the evacuation of the hostages despite being ordered to evacuate the collapsing building himself, which was now structurally unsound due to the fire. Sergeant Payne then reentered the burning building one last time to ensure everyone had been evacuated. He consciously exposed himself to enemy automatic gunfire each time he entered the building.”
Payne joined the Army out of a sense of patriotism, the White House said. His wife is a nurse, his father is a police officer, and his two brothers serve in the Army and the Air Force.
Payne hails from Batesburg-Leesville and Lugoff in South Carolina.
The Medal of Honor is awarded to members of the Armed Forces who distinguish themselves with courageous actions while putting their own lives at risk.
Trump, meanwhile, announced Friday he would award the Presidential Medal of Freedom to Holtz.
Recommendations to award Holtz poured in from numerous football coaches across the nation, the president told reporters in Washington.
“And we’ve analyzed it very closely, we’ve looked at all of those recommendations, we’ve looked at Lou’s life and his career and what he’s done for charity, and the football is obvious, he was a great coach, but what he’s done beyond even coaching,” Trump said.
“So, Lou will be getting the Presidential Medal of Freedom.”
Holtz, 83, was present but did not speak to reporters.
In a separate statement on Twitter, Trump wrote: “Letters from so many coaches, athletes and others pushed hard for this. I agree, has done so much for so many!”
Holtz played football at Kent State University before starting a long coaching career that included stints at William & Mary University, the New York Jets, and Notre Dame.
He was inducted into the College Football Hall of Fame in 2008.
The medal of freedom is awarded by the president “to individuals who have made exceptional contributions to the security or national interests of America, to world peace, or to cultural or other significant public or private endeavors,” according to the White House.
Past recipients include Muhammad Ali, Mother Teresa, and Steven Spielberg.