FORT CAMPBALL, Ky. -- Gen. David M. Rodriguez, commander of U.S. Forces Command, awarded the Distinguished Service Cross to the widow of Staff Sgt. Eric B. Shaw, Company C, 2nd Battalion, 327th Infantry Regiment, 1st Brigade Combat Team, 101st Airborne Division (Air Assault), during a somber ceremony, Jan. 16, at Liberty Chapel, here.
Audrey R. Shaw accepted the award, along with his Eric's mother, Michelle Campbell. Shaw died in combat, June 27, 2010, while assisting others to safety during a firefight in Afghanistan. Only the second Screaming Eagle Soldier to earn the honor since the Vietnam War, Shaw is remembered for "acts of gallantry and intrepidity above and beyond the call of duty" according to the award citation.
He served as a squad leader with "No Slack" in Marawara District, Kunar Province, Afghanistan, during 1st BCT's deployment in support of Operation Enduring Freedom.
The award citation explains Shaw encountered enemy fire while his squad attempted to seize the village of Daridam. He gave his own life after coming to the aid of a 12 Afghan National Army soldiers who got cut off from the 1st BCT squad and led them back to U.S. forces when enemy fire struck him.
Shaw's actions that day are "an inspiration to us for how he lived his life and sacrificed it for his country," Rodriguez said. The incident occurred during the 31-year-old's third deployment. Shaw joined the Army in October 2004 -- at a time when U.S. forces remained on the ground in Afghanistan and Iraq.
"Eric wanted to be part of that military -- to make a difference," Rodriguez said.
Family, friends and Shaw's fellow Soldiers packed into the sanctuary of Liberty Chapel, all to honor the Soldier whose selfless and heroic actions will be remembered in the weeks and years to come.
"I'm very proud and I'm very happy to be here," Campbell said. "Obviously, I'm very saddened by my son's death, but I know that he's a hero."
Campbell remembers her son as a brave man, who "didn't want anybody to hurt" and concentrated on the good of others above his own needs.
The Exeter, Maine, native came to Fort Campbell in March 2005. He chose to enlist as an infantryman, just as his father had been during the Vietnam War.
"He wanted to experience combat as his father had," Audrey explained, who first met her husband when enrolled at the University of Southern Maine.
Audrey recalls her husband as a humble man, who became a Soldier not for glory or fame. She said he would be humbled to receive the Distinguished Service Cross, which is second only to the Medal of Honor.
"I don't do it so people can recognize me; I do it because it's what I love," Audrey remembered him telling her once as she affixed a 101st Airborne sticker to their vehicle.
As the third anniversary of Shaw's death approaches, Audrey keeps the memory of the man she loved alive for their three daughters: Madison, 7; Victoria, 5; and Julia, 2½. When thinking about him, Audrey remembers the Soldier's love for comedian Chris Farley and his affinity for a good joke.
"He was probably the funniest man with the biggest heart that I've ever met," she said. "He would always have a joke; usually it was making fun of himself."
Shaw, who also wrestled through high school and college, remained dedicated to his band of brothers.
"His Soldiers were everything to him," Audrey said. "They were his family. He was more worried about them not coming home than himself."
The Distinguished Service Cross is the nation's second highest award for valor, bestowed on someone who exhibits extraordinary heroism while engaged in military actions against an enemy of the United States. The heroism must be notable and involve risk of life that sets the person apart from others.
"His Soldiers knew him as a fantastic leader," Rodriguez added. "He spent an enormous amount of time training them, not only on the physical stress and strain of war, but the emotional toll war takes on a Soldier. [Staff] Sergeant Shaw did everything he could to prepare his Soldiers for what they were facing every day. His superiors considered him a professional warrior."
Shaw is the 166th Screaming Eagle Soldier to receive the Distinguished Service Cross.
"Do I wish he had been able to be here today to accept his award?" Audrey asked, her voice wavering. "I would give every single thing that I have right now so that he could be here and that he could be with our girls and watch them grow."