Kiski Township’s Staff Sgt. Booker to receive second-highest military honor for 2003 battle
Sixteen years to the day after he died defending fellow soldiers in Iraq, Army Staff Sgt. Stevon Booker will posthumously be presented the Distinguished Service Cross, the nation’s second highest military award for bravery.
A special Army ceremony will be held starting at 10 a.m. April 5 in Soldiers & Sailors Memorial Hall in the Oakland section of Pittsburgh. The ceremony is public.
Booker was a Kiski Township native who enlisted in the Army soon after graduating from Apollo-Ridge High School.
He served in combat in Operation Desert Storm in 1991. Booker, of the 3rd Infantry Division, was assigned to Company A 1st Battalion, 64th Armor Regiment, during Operation Iraqi Freedom. On the day he died, April 5, 2003, Booker was commander of a M1A1 tank that was taking part in the “Thunder Run” attack against the Republican Guard and other enemies just outside Baghdad. He was 34.
Booker’s unit was under fierce gunfire by small arms and rocket-propelled grenades when Booker left a relative place of safety inside the tank, according to the Army’s reports.
He climbed up to fire a .50-caliber machine gun atop his tank. When that gun malfunctioned, Booker started to fire rounds from an M4 rifle.
Booker is also credited with relaying communications that led to the destruction of an enemy truck that was carrying an anti-aircraft gun.
By then, Booker had fired fired more than 280 rounds of ammunition. He got more, and as the tank rumbled on, Booker continued to shoot at the insurgents for nearly five miles until he was wounded and died, the Army and witnesses told the Valley News Dispatch.
When news of Booker’s death hit the Apollo area in early April 2003, flags were lowered to half-staff at the Apollo Borough Building, the park, downtown shopping plaza and elsewhere.
On Wednesday, Booker’s mother, Freddie Jackson, said Booker’s sister Kimberly, of Pittsburgh, and some of the soldiers who served with Booker will be at the ceremony.
Booker’s company commander, now Col. Andy Hilmes, was three tanks back when he saw Booker’s actions. Hilmes is scheduled to be the keynote speaker, Jackson said.
Booker was the first soldier from Southwestern Pennsylvania killed in Iraq.
Others with ties to the Apollo area are Spc. Joshua Henry, 21, who was killed in action in Iraq about a year after Booker, and 2nd Lt. Michael Girdano, 23, of Kiski Township, who died Aug. 1, 2008, in combat in Afghanistan.
The men’s three Gold Star mothers frequently contact each other, Jackson said, and at least one is planning to attend the ceremony for Booker.
Booker was posthumously presented a Silver Star in 2003, but the Army upgraded the medal as a result of a comprehensive review of military decorations for Operation Iraqi Freedom, according to a report.
In 2007, a building at Aberdeen Proving Ground, Maryland, was dedicated and named in Booker’s honor.
Mary Ann Thomas is a Tribune-Review staff writer. You can contact Mary at 724-226-4691, [email protected] or via Twitter .