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Top honor for Iraq bravery

Great Britain

LONDON, England -- An armored vehicle driver who saved 30 colleagues from an ambush in Iraq has become the first soldier to win Britain's top military honor, the Victoria Cross, in more than 20 years.

Private Johnson Beharry was cited on Friday for "valor of the highest order" for two separate acts of bravery under fire in the flashpoint town of Amarah, north of Basra, last year.

Beharry, who is recovering from injuries and bears a scar across his skull from surgery, said he was stunned to be told he had received the honor.

The 25-year-old is the first living recipient of a Victoria Cross -- the highest award for gallantry in the face of enemy attack bestowed on British and Commonwealth soldiers -- since 1969, when two Australians won the honor.

"When I was told yesterday I thought it was great to have received the award. I was speechless," said Beharry, who was born on the Caribbean island of Grenada but now lives with his wife in London.

In the first incident on May 1, 2004, he guided a convoy of Warrior vehicles through heavy fire in Amarah. His Warrior was hit by rocket propelled grenades (RPG) but he delivered troops to a secure area and returned twice to his burning vehicle to carry the wounded to safety.

'Extraordinary story'

A month later, Beharry rescued further lives in a second ferocious exchange and suffered serious head wounds in a RPG assault that left him in a coma.

"Maybe I was brave, I don't know. I think anyone else could do the same thing," he told reporters.

"At the time I was just doing the job, I didn't have time for other thoughts.

"I want to return to service, but I don't know when that will be and I would go back to Iraq if I had to."

Chief of the General Staff Sir Mike Jackson praised his valor and said that given the nature of his injuries, it would be the soldier's decision to return to duty.

"His citation is an extraordinary story of one man's courage, in the way he risked his life for his colleagues not once, but twice."

Beharry joins only 13 other living holders of Victoria Cross medals, which are struck of bronze from two cannons captured from Russia during the siege of Sevastopol 150 years ago.

His is the first Victoria Cross bestowed since Lieutenant Colonel Herbert "H" Jones and Sergeant Ian John McKay received posthumous awards after the Falklands War of 1982.

Beharry was included in a list of more than 140 British troops awarded honors for distinguished service in Iraq, Afghanistan, Northern Ireland, the Balkans, Liberia, Sierra Leone and Congo.

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