A soldier who died while saving others in a devastating New York apartment fire late last year was posthumously honored with two medals of valor, the National Guard announced Tuesday.
The brave efforts of Pfc. Emmanuel Mensah, of the New York Army National Guard, were recognized Friday with the Soldier’s Medal, “the Army’s highest award for bravery outside of a combat zone” and the New York State Medal for Valor, according to a news release. The soldier’s family received the medals on his behalf.
Mensah, 28, was killed by the Bronx blaze on Dec. 28, 2017 along with 12 others. According to the release, the soldier ran back inside the burning building three times and was able to save four people. After another rescue attempt, Mensah did not re-emerge from the flames. The location where his remains were found led investigators to believe that “he was still seeking to rescue people,” the release said.
The fire was started by a young child who was playing with stove burners in a first-floor apartment, officials said at the time.
Lt. Gen. Thomas Kadavy, who presented Mensah’s father with the Soldier’s Medal, described the fallen service member as “an unselfish Soldier of incredible bravery.”
"After quickly escaping the fire, Private First Class Mensah could have remained safely outside," Kadavy said. "But, knowing that residents were still inside, it was not in his nature to stand by without doing whatever he could to help them escape the deadly inferno that was raging through their homes.”
Mensah immigrated to the Bronx from Ghana and became a U.S. citizen about three months before his demise, the release said.
"He fulfilled his dream, what he wanted to do," Mensah’s father, Kwabena, said. "He was proud of being (in) the American military. He was so proud of that."
Mensah had recently graduated from boot camp and was set to start drilling with the New York Army National Guard’s 107th Military Police Company in January, the release said. He was reportedly buried on Saturday with full military honors.
"Every Soldier has a story," Command Sgt. Maj. Javier Lugo said, "this just goes to show how all of our Soldiers are special."
In January, Sen. Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., called upon the military branch to honor Mensah and said it was his “sincere hope” that the Army would “honor and recognize one of their own who lived and died according to the highest ideals of their institution and of this country.”