War hero awarded Medal of Honor on 9/11 anniversary

Sgt. Maj. Thomas “Patrick” Payne helped free 75 hostages held by ISIS
Published: Sep. 11, 2020 at 9:10 PM EDT
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THE WHITE HOUSE (Gray DC) -- President Donald Trump awarded the Medal of Honor Friday to a decorated war hero who was inspired to become a U.S. Army Ranger in the aftermath of Sept. 11.

Sgt. Maj. Thomas “Patrick” Payne grew up in Batesburg-Leesville and Lugoff, S.C., and will now forever be remembered for earning this top military honor.

On this 9/11 anniversary, the president awarded Payne the Medal of Honor for showing incredible bravery during a harrowing rescue mission in Iraq. He was joined for a special ceremony at the White House with his wife and one of his sons.

“Pat, you embody the righteous glory of American valor. We stand in awe of your heroic, daring, and gallant deeds. You truly went above and beyond the call of duty," said President Trump.

In 2015, Payne helped lead a Delta Force team through heavy enemy fire to liberate 75 hostages who faced near-certain execution at the hands of ISIS. In an act of extreme bravery, Payne kept reentering a building on the verge of collapsing, just to make sure every possible prisoner could be saved.

The soldiers were tasked with a treacherous and intricate mission, which included brown-out conditions, machine-gun fire, suicide vests exploding, and even flames as they tried to spare terrified hostages from a horrific fate.

Payne offered a few brief remarks with reporters following the official ceremony.

“The Hawija hostage rescue raid on October 22, 2015, highlights our country’s undying commitment to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness," said Payne.

The war hero shifted the attention to his fellow soldiers, especially Master Sgt. Josh Wheeler, who was killed taking direct gunfire from the terrorists.

“Master Sgt. Josh Wheeler gave his life in order to liberate the oppressed; therefore, they now have a second chance at the pursuit of happiness," said Wheeler.

Although Friday was Payne’s big moment recognizing his valor, he emphasized the team effort of this historic mission.

“The actions by my teammates were truly awe-inspiring. It makes me proud to be an American,” said Payne. "Their legacies will live on with this Medal of Honor.”

When 9/11 rattled the nation to the core, Payne was just a teenager and knew he was called to serve. Nineteen years since the attacks, the Trump administration shines a spotlight on this story of triumph emerging from the ashes of tragedy.

“The spirit lives inside every American," said Payne. "Thank you. I look forward to serving as a guardian of this medal. God bless the United States of America. And Rangers, lead the way.”

Throughout his service, Payne deployed in 17 missions all over the world. He’s stationed at Fort Bragg with his wife and three kids.

Payne is the first living Delta Force member to receive the Medal of Honor. The mission recognized Friday by President Trump is for one of the largest hostage rescues in special operations history.

Photojournalist/Editor Tyler Smith contributed to this report.

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