FORT CAMPBELL, Ky. — The Army honored a Fort Campbell soldier killed in 2010 while saving the lives of Afghan soldiers by giving him the second highest-military honor, the Distinguished Service Cross, on Wednesday.
Staff Sgt. Eric B. Shaw, of Exeter, Maine, is credited with rushing to the aid of the Afghans during a firefight with insurgents in the eastern Afghanistan province of Kunar in June 2010. Shaw was a squad leader with Company C, 2nd Battalion, 327th Infantry Regiment, 1st Brigade Combat Team, 101st Airborne Division based at Fort Campbell.
His widow and mother received the award in his honor during a ceremony Wednesday at the post on the Tennessee-Kentucky state line in front of hundreds of soldiers, family and friends of the squad leader, whom they remembered as selfless and always in good spirits.
Gen. David M. Rodriguez, commander of the Army’s U.S. Forces Command, was the top military commander in Afghanistan at the time when Shaw’s unit, nicknamed the “No Slack” battalion, was stationed in Kunar, a province that was the site of many deadly encounters with insurgents.
Rodriguez said he never met Shaw, but was humbled at hearing about his actions and the kind of person he was.
“When soldiers deploy to combat, they fight for the soldiers on their left and on their right,” he said. “As a leader in America’s Army, you fight to make sure every member of your unit comes home alive. Staff Sgt. Shaw not only did this for the members of his platoon, but also his sacrifices helped save the lives of 12 Afghan Army members.”
According to the military citation, Shaw’s squad was fighting in the Marawa district and attempting to seize a village when he realized that a platoon of their Afghan Army partners were cut off and exposed to enemy fire.
Shaw immediately rushed to their aid and helped the soldiers rejoin the rest of the troops. He was killed in the attack, but the troops were able to consolidate their forces and accomplish the mission. Another Fort Campbell soldier, Spc. David W. Thomas, was killed in the same attack.
The Distinguished Service Cross has been given to only 10 other soldiers for heroic actions in the war in Afghanistan and is second only to the Medal of Honor.
“He’ll never be forgotten,” said Audrey Shaw, his widow, after the ceremony. “When you look up the recipients of this award, people will always be able to find him and know who he was.”
He had wanted to go into the Army right out of high school, but his father, who was a Vietnam veteran, had wanted him to go to college, Audrey Shaw said. He searched for a job after graduating from the University of Southern Maine, but ultimately decided he wanted to enlist and joined in 2004.
A big guy who used to wrestle in school, Shaw said her husband was a Chris Farley-like character who always had a joke for others. Shaw said when they were a young couple, she was worried for his safety, but he was determined to serve.
“I was afraid I would end up exactly where I am, as a widow of a fallen soldier,” she said. “But he knew that’s what he was supposed to do.”
She supported him through two deployments to Iraq before he was sent to Afghanistan. She said she told him at the beginning of every deployment, “Don’t be a hero, just come home.”
But she said she wasn’t surprised when she heard that he had sacrificed his own life to save others.
“He was the kind of guy who was ‘Go big, or go home,'” she said.
The couple has three daughters, ages 7, 5 and 2. Audrey Shaw acknowledged that it has been difficult to explain to the young children what their father did, but she said the ceremony helped to show the impact he had on so many others.
“They don’t know a lot of the details. The most they probably heard about that was today,” she said. “It’s good for them to see that so many people care and remember him and want to honor him.”