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WASHINGTON (AP) -- The family of Utah native Brett Thorpe was awarded Afghanistan's highest honor Tuesday for his service guarding president Hamid Karzai.
Thorpe, who suffered a fatal heart attack while running alongside Karzai's motorcade this summer, was awarded the Afghan Baryal Medal at a ceremony at the State Department. He is the fist American to receive the honor.
"He volunteered to go into harm's way once again to serve his nation to help one of our closest allies develop the kind of democracy that the Afghan people deserve and desire," said assistant Secretary of State Francis X. Taylor.
Thorpe's mother, Peggy Thorpe, said her son would have been embarrassed by all the fuss.
Afghanistan's Charge d' Affaires Haron Amin, who is in charge of the Afghan embassy in the absence of the ambassador, said Thorpe "was very dedicated to the cause" of bringing freedom to the country and his death is a sad occasion.
Thorpe's wife, Jeannie Thorpe, received a blue heart-shaped box containing the medal wrapped in a dark red velvet fringed cloth. The small gold medallion bears a torch and laurel leaf design on the front.
Brett Thorpe was born in San Diego, the son of a Navy pilot, and joined the Army right after high school.
He became a Green Beret and trained as a sharpshooter. He had retired after 20 years in the service and settled into the bedroom community of Enoch, north of Cedar City in 1998. But after the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon he longed to be back in the action.
"After 9-11, he was just heartsick that he wasn't in the service," Peggy Thorpe said. "He just wanted to serve some way."
Thorpe signed on with DynCorp, a Virginia-based outfit whose contracts include a State Department project to provide the security detail for Karzai. Thorpe was one of a half-dozen retired special forces soldiers assigned to the president.
Protecting Karzai was a job with constant danger, from Islamic extremists as well as regional warlords and drug lords.
"President Karzai felt so strongly about Brett's service to him and to the protective detail, but I think most especially to the people of Afghanistan as he reached out to the children of Afghanistan who will be the next generation of leaders to teach them what America is really all about," Taylor said.
Taylor said Karzai wanted to present the medal to Thorpe's family in Afghanistan, but sent it to the United States because he recognized how much Thorpe valued his family and would have wanted them to be able to attend.
Thorpe's two sons will carry on his legacy. This November, his eldest son Christopher, 19, will begin basic training for the Army in Georgia. Brandon, 17, plans to join after he graduates from high school.
(Copyright 2003 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)