President Obama presented the Medal of Honor to Army Sgt. 1st Class Leroy Petry on Tuesday for protecting his fellow soldiers by grabbing and throwing back a live grenade while in combat in Afghanistan. His selfless act of valor cost him his right hand.
Petry was honored for exhibiting “a singular act of gallantry" since the beginning of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. This was only the second time during the wars that a recipient of the Medal of Honor from an ongoing conflict has been able to accept the medal in person.
“The Medal of Honor … reflects the deepest gratitude of our entire nation,” Obama said.
Petry’s courageous act took place on May 26, 2008, near the mountainous border of Pakistan. It was broad daylight and a high-risk mission. Rangers flew in on helicopters on an insurgent compound that was believed to be housing a top al-Qaida commander.
Under fire, Petry was hit on both legs but continued to act to protect his comrades. When a grenade landed a few feet away from him, he picked it up and threw it back as it was exploding – causing him to lose his hand and riddling his body with shrapnel.
During what is described as one of the country’s most sacred ceremonies, the president praised Sgt. Petry for his extraordinary acts.
“Every human impulse would tell someone to turn away,” Obama said.
“Every soldier is trained to seek cover; that's what Sgt. Leroy Petry could've done. Instead, this wounded ranger, this 28-year-old man with his whole life ahead of him, this husband, this father of four did something extraordinary, he lunged forward towards the live grenade, he picked it up and threw it back,” said the president.
His courageous act, which saved two of his comrades, continued even after being badly wounded from the explosion. Hhe continued to lead his team and even gave orders to medics telling them how to treat his wounds.
Petry’s courage stretched beyond his amputation, Obama highlighted. Even though his wounds sometimes made it hard for him to stand up, he pushed himself and joined his fellow rangers for a grueling 20-mile march.
Obama presented him as an example of “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, we don't give up.”
“He could've focused only on his own recovery but today he helps care for other wounded warriors, inspiring them with his example. Given his wounds, he could've retired from the army with honor; he chose to re-enlist, indefinitely,” Obama reported. “This past year, he returned to Afghanistan, his eighth deployment, back with his rangers – brothers – on another mission to keep our country safe.”
He credited Petry as a representative of American’s endurance but most importantly emergence from American’s trials. “American doesn't simply endure; we emerge from our trials proudly, more confidently, with our eyes fixed on the future.”
During the ceremonial speech, Obama reiterated that heroes are all around us and that Sgt. Petry proves that they don’t only exist but are closer than we think.