10 Most Decorated War Heroes of the 21st Century

Source: Public Domain / Wikimedia Commons

Angelo Vaccaro
> Rank: Corporal
> Military branch: Army
> Served in: Afghanistan
> Medals of valor: Two Silver Stars

Angelo Vaccaro was a line medic with the U.S. Army’s 10th Mountain Division, earning both Silver Stars while he was deployed in Afghanistan’s Kunar province. He received the awards while he was treating wounded soldiers under withering enemy fire. A few weeks after his actions earned him his second Silver Star, Corporal Vaccaro was killed when a rocket-propelled grenade struck his vehicle in October 2006 as he tried to rescue wounded soldiers. In previous evacuations of wounded soldiers, Vaccaro had won two Purple Hearts for wounds suffered during those operations.

Source: Public Domain / Wikimedia Commons

Kirk Foster
> Rank: Sergeant First Class
> Military branch: Army
> Served in: Iraq
> Medals of valor: Two Silver Stars

Kirk Foster was stationed with the U.S. Army’s 75th Ranger Regiment in Iraq. Foster would distinguish himself in October 2005 by earning two Silver Stars that month. According to the citation for the second medal, while under enemy attack from direct fire and grenades, Foster “led an assault on an insurgent stronghold.” According to the citation, “His heroic leadership, courage under fire, and aggressive spirit saved lives by eliminating the enemy threat to his fellow Rangers.”

Source: Courtesy of Western Washington - Military Order of the Purple Heart via Facebook

Sean Harvell
> Rank: Staff Sergeant
> Military branch: Air Force
> Served in: Afghanistan
> Medals of valor: Two Silver Stars

Air Force Staff Sgt. Sean Harvell was a two-time recipient of the Silver Star. He earned the medals while he was deployed as a combat controller working with soldiers and Marines. On May 8, 2007, he helped dozens of troops escape an ambush. During the 10-hour firefight, Harvell helped direct a medevac helicopter to its landing zone and also coordinated air support. His official citation says he exposed himself to enemy fire as close as five meters (about 16 feet) and directed strafing runs within just 45 feet of his position. Heroism in Afghanistan gave way to tragedy in America. In 2016, Harvell drowned near his home in Long Branch, Calif. (Five years earlier, his brother, Staff Sgt. Andrew Harvell, was killed in Afghanistan in 2011 when his helicopter was shot down.)

Source: Courtesy of Air Force Wounded Warrior via Facebook

Ismael Villegas
> Rank: Tech Sergeant
> Military branch: Air Force
> Served in: Afghanistan
> Medals of valor: Two Silver Stars

Ismael Villegas served in the Air Force from 1997 to 2020. He was a joint terminal attack controller with a U.S. Army Special Forces team on Sept. 24, 2009, in Bagh Khosak, Afghanistan, when he distinguished himself in combat and earned his first Silver Star. His three-man team was clearing explosives from the roadside when they were ambushed by enemy fighters using remote-controlled explosive devices and heavy machine gun fire. With his teammates pinned down, Villegas sprinted about 200 meters across an uncleared minefield to get into a better fighting position. He returned fire while calling in air support, which routed the enemy and spared the lives of Villegas’ teammates. He earned his second star during action from Feb. 6-24, 2011. Villegas gathered intelligence on enemy positions, coordinated air strikes, and pulled a wounded teammate to safety.

Source: navalsurfaceforces / Flickr

Ted C. Westmoreland
> Rank: Master Sergeant
> Military branch: Army
> Served in: Iraq
> Medals of valor: Two Silver Stars

Ted C. Westmoreland was a medic with U.S. Army Special Forces and earned his two Silver Stars in two different countries. He earned the first one on July 25, 2003, shortly after the invasion of Iraq, when his unit assaulted a building that held two of the most wanted targets in Iraq at the time. During the ensuing firefight, Westmoreland avoided enemy fire to save the lives of his teammates. Then in operation in Afghanistan from Dec. 4 to Dec. 11, 2003, Westmoreland earned a second Silver Star on a mission behind enemy lines described in his citation as a “mass casualty incident.” Westmoreland’s citation credits him with saving numerous lives, both Americans and Afghans, despite being wounded and under enemy fire.

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