(January 9, 2018) A New York National Guardsman who died saving people from a fire in New York City has been posthumously awarded the Soldiers Medal by Army Secretary Mark Esper. The Soldiers Medal is the service’s highest award for heroism outside of combat.
Pfc. Emmanuel Mensah was also awarded the New York State Medal for Valor from Gov. Andrew Cuomo. The state citation reads, “His courageous and selfless act in the face of unimaginable conditions are consistent with the highest traditions of uniformed service and deserving of the highest possible recognition.”
Mensah has been credited with saving four lives by returning multiple times to a five-story building that was on fire shortly after Christmas. Thirteen people died in the blaze, including eight adults and five children.
In a letter to Esper, Sen. Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., said Mensah displayed “the Army values of personal courage, selfless service and duty.” He called the 28-year old “a soldier, an immigrant, a first-generation American, a New Yorker—but above all else, he was a hero.”
Mensah, who lived in the building, had recently returned from training in Virginia and was to begin drilling with the 107th Military Police Company in Brooklyn. Reports say he was asleep on the first floor when the fire began. He left the building, but returned three times to help others escape.
The fire was started by a child playing with a gas stove.
New York City Mayor Bill DeBlasio used Twitter to honor Mensah, saying, “His heroism exemplifies the best of our city. Rest in peace.”
Mensah’s family had come to the United States from Ghana. He was a permanent legal resident.
Staff Sgt. Ruben Martinez-Ortiz, who recruited Mensah, said, “I knew from the moment I met him his heart was as big as our National Guard family. He was ready to serve our nation and community. Pfc. Mensah was the embodiment of what our Army values stand for.”