Sgt. 1st Class Leroy A. Petry received the Medal of Honor from President Barack Obama during a historic ceremony in the East Room of the White House today.
Petry is only the second active-duty servicemember since Vietnam to live to accept the nation’s highest military honor. The first Soldier, Staff Sgt. Salvatore Giunta, was seated in the audience that included Vice President Joe Biden, Army senior leaders, several rows of decorated Army Rangers, and more than 100 of Petry’s family and friends, including his wife, mother, father, grandparents, brothers and four children.
"This could not be happening to a nicer guy or a more inspiring family," the president said. “Leroy, the Medal of Honor reflects the deepest gratitude of our entire nation.”
Obama took the audience back to May 26, 2008, to Pakyta, Afghanistan. It was the day Petry’s act of conspicuous gallantry saved the lives of Sgt. Daniel Higgins and Pfc. Lucas Robinson.
The president explained how Petry and members of his Co. D, 2nd Bn., 75th Ranger Regiment, took on a rare daylight raid on an insurgent compound to pursue a top al-Qaida commander sequestered inside, and how the mission left Petry and two of his comrades within feet of a live enemy grenade.
Petry was already shot through both legs, but with no regard for his life, still took action to save comrades Higgins and Robinson from certain death.
"Every human impulse would tell someone to turn away. Every Soldier is trained to seek cover. That’s what Sergeant Leroy Petry could have done," Obama said. "Instead, this wounded Ranger, this 28-year-old man who had his whole life ahead of him, this husband and father of four did something extraordinary -- he lunged forward toward the live grenade. He picked it up. He cocked his arm to throw it back. What compels such courage that leads a person to risk everything so that others might live?"
Petry shook hands with the president today using a robotic hand, which replaced the one he lost when the grenade detonated as Petry released it.
The day of the incident even the loss of his hand failed to fluster him, though. Obama marveled that the war hero applied a tourniquet himself and then radioed for help.
"The service of Leroy Petry speaks to the very essence of America -- that spirit that says, no matter how hard the journey, no matter how steep the climb, we don’t quit," Obama said.
Petry’s calm handling of a highly dangerous mission allowed other Rangers to kill enemy fighters. Spc. Christopher Gathercole gave his life in the battle. Gathercole’s brother, sister and grandmother stood as the audience gave them a thunderous round of applause in his honor.
Obama shared that in an earlier meeting in the Oval Office, Petry displayed a plaque he has mounted on his mechanical hand that bears the names of Gathercole and other Soldiers the regiment has lost.
Higgins and Robinson were able to celebrate with Petry at the White House.
"This is the stuff of which heroes are made," Obama said. "This is the strength, the devotion that makes our troops the pride of every American. And this is the reason that -- like a Soldier named Leroy Petry -- America doesn’t simply endure, we emerge from our trials stronger, more confident, with our eyes fixed on the future."
Petry continues his work to help wounded warriors. After re-enlisting, he even returned to Afghanistan for an eighth combat tour last year.
"Today we honor a singular act of gallantry," Obama said in closing, "yet as we near the 10th anniversary of the attacks that thrust our nation into war, this is also an occasion to pay tribute to a Soldier and a generation that has borne the burden of our security during a hard decade of sacrifice."