Heroic NCO Rescues Civilians Caught in Crossfire
Sgt. Cabacar to receive Bronze Star
story by Spec. John Sell

soldier1.jpg (22415 bytes) FORT CLAYTON, Panama - War produces heroes, Operation Just Cause put many soldiers in a position to rise to the occasion and be decorated as heroes.  Company C, 5th Battalion, 87th Infantry, has one such soldier.

St. Raymond D. Cabacar, a squad leader, has been approved for a Bronze Star with Valor for his actions during a firefight Dec. 22 at the Panama Traffic Directorate (DNTT).

About 20 minutes into the fight, Cabacar, under heavy enemy fire, dashed 100 meters across a parking lot to help civilians who were caught in the cross fire.  He saved a woman and two children.  However, a third child and a man died in his arms.  Both were shot by Panama Defense Force soldiers while Cabacar attempted to find them safety.

Cabacar and the rest of 1st squad, 3rd platoon were inspecting candidates for the new Panama Public Force that morning near the DNTT gate.   At approximately 11 a.m. sniper fire opened up from an adjacent warehouse, he said.   The squad immediately hit the ground and responded with fire.

"The squad opened up on the warehouse, and I fired two Light Anti-tank Weapons into it," Cabacar said.  "Then I emptied 30 M-203 grenade rounds into the warehouse."

PDF fire also came from Ancon Hill on the left flank.   the ambush from the hill included mortar fire, Rocket Propelled Grenade fire, and AK47's, according to Cabacar.

Rounds continued to fly and the warehouse was engulfed in flames when something caught Cabacar's eye.  "I saw two children standing up by the fence and I yelled to one of my sergeants, but he said he couldn't see them through the bushes," Cabacar said.  "So I threw everything down and took off across the parking lot to help them.

"Both children were crying because their mother and another child were struck trying to crawl under the fence," he said.  "I lay the two kids down and then reached for the child.  As I pulled her out she was shot and went limp in my arms.  so I put her down, assuming she was dead.

"I then lay on my back and pushed the fence up so the lady could crawl through," Cabacar said.  He then passed them to two of his noncommissioned officers who moved them to safety.

Another man was wounded in both legs; so Cabacar lifted him under his arms.  He was pulling the m an to safety when the man was shot twice in the chest and died.

Seeing no more civilians in the open, Cabacar then started administering first aid to the wounded.  the woman, who was stuck under the fence, had a bullet wound in the ear.

"I took my fingers and pushed the bullet back out of her ear.  I also treated the children for shock," Cabacar said.  He then moved to whoever was wounded and basically tried to stop the bleeding until he could get them to medical help.

Cabacar said once the hour-long fire fight started he quit thinking and started reacting.  "I was just doing it; everything came second nature because this what we train for," he said.

When the two people died in his arms, Cabacar said he was more mad than anything else.  "I was really mad that they would shoot innocent people," Cabacar said.  "It really hurts inside that people would do that.

"I'm an 11B, all 'hooah, hooah,' and thought I would love war, but after that I realized it's not for me," he said.

The Bronze Star is a bonus, according to Cabacar.   "I would do what I did again and again if I had to," he said.   "It's nice that my superiors noticed my actions under fire, but being here today and making it through is the biggest award of all."

Spec. Wallace D. Parker Jr. was with Cabacar when the fighting broke out.  "What Sergeant Cabacar did was very heroic and makes me proud to have him as my squad leader," Parker said.  "I was about 30 feet from him when I saw him take off.  I then just tried to lay down enough rounds from my Squad Automatic Weapon to keep the fire on me - not him.

I sprayed about a thousand rounds, going back and forth from the warehouse to the hill and back to the warehouse," Parker said.  "I shot at anything that moved that looked hostile."

Capt. Donald S. Currie, his company commander, said Cabacar exposed himself many times to enemy fire and personifies the quality of soldiers in 5th Battalion.

"There is a song that asks where did all the heroes go?" Currie said.  "The heroes were there that day.  They may not be on national television, but they were there and Sergeant Cabacar was definitely one of those heroes."

April 18, 2000

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