They parachuted behind German lines during World War II's invasion of Normandy, and fought in the Battle of the Bulge at Bastogne. Now their heroics have found a freezing mountaintop in the most remote, forsaken reaches of Afghanistan.
The 101st Airborne Division is one of the most decorated divisions of the U.S. Army. Today, a stack of stars and hearts – medals in silver, bronze, and purple – were pinned on the chests of 20 soldiers by their commander, Gen. David Petraeus. Rarely, if ever, have so many medals been given to a single unit for a single battle in Iraq or Afghanistan.
The U.S. troops from the 2nd Battalion, 327th Infantry Regiment, Task Force No Slack, 1st Brigade Combat Team, 101st Airborne Division (Air Assault) came to a Taliban hideout in Kunar province -- a hornets' nest along the treacherous Afghanistan-Pakistan border -- to take the battle to them.
So often in this region, the enemy remains far from sight. But not this time -- not in this battle.
They were patrolling close to the border on March 29 when they were fired upon from three sides by Taliban fighters.
The firefight lasted hours, with the U.S. soldiers and Afghan forces digging into a muddy hillside.
Capt. Ed Bankston organized his troops by radio one moment. And fired at Taliban the next.
Today, for his valor, Bankston was awarded the Silver Star – the nation's third-highest decoration – pinned to his uniform by Gen. Petraeus, himself a former commander of the 101st.
Sgt. Matthew Mendez took a bullet to the chest in the battle and kept fighting. Saved only by his body armor, today Mendez was awarded the bronze star for his bravery.
Sgt. Jeremy Sizemore was shot too – while leading his platoon into the thick of the battle. Amazingly, the bullet – he told us – deflected off a plastic Tang bottle in his pocket.
Today, Sizemore received the Bronze Star as well. His commanding general understood what moved these men to heroics.
"It just kicks in and it's their fierce determination not to let down their buddies," Petraeus said.
With bagpipes playing "Amazing Grace" in the background, Petraeus honored six of their buddies who didn't make it, and another six who were wounded, at a solemn memorial.
Sgt. 1st Class Ofren Arrechaga, 28, of Hialeah, Fla; Staff Sgt. Frank E. Adamski III, 26, of Moosup, Conn.; Spc. Jameson L. Lindskog, 23, of Pleasanton, Calif.; Staff Sgt. Bryan A. Burgess, 29, Cleburne, Texas; Spc. Dustin J. Feldhaus, 20, Glendale, Ariz.; and Pvt. Jeremy P. Faulkner, 23, Griffin, Ga. all lost their lives that day.
For Pfc. Brian Smith, the youngest in this close-knit squad, the loss ran deep as he knelt – and wept – to remember the sergeant he looked up to.
Yet he, as every soldier from this mighty crew honored today, would gladly trade every medal in the world for the lives of their fallen comrades.
ABC News' Mike Boettcher filed from Forward Operating Base Joyce, Kunar Province, Afghanistan.