Newest Medal of Honor Recipient Says He’s ‘Still Me’

WASHINGTON — The Army Ranger who received the Medal of Hon­or from Pres­i­dent Barack Oba­ma at a July 12 White House cer­e­mo­ny told reporters yes­ter­day he’s still the same per­son.

Army Sgt. 1st. Class Leroy A. Petry describes the com­bat action of May 26, 2008, near Pak­tia, Afghanistan, in which he dis­tin­guished him­self by sav­ing the lives of two fel­low Rangers. Petry was induct­ed into the Pentagon’s Hall of Heroes, July 13, 2011, a day after receiv­ing the Medal of Hon­or from Pres­i­dent Barack Oba­ma. Petry lost his hand in the 2008 fight, but now uses a state-of-the-art pros­the­sis.
DOD pho­to by R.D. Ward
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Army Sgt. 1st Class Leroy A. Petry spoke to the media here after a cer­e­mo­ny induct­ing him into the Pentagon’s Hall of Heroes.

Petry smiled often as he answered ques­tions. The medal, to him, is most­ly some­thing he wears with his dress uni­form, he told reporters.

“It’s a dec­o­ra­tion, it’s not a depic­tion of who I am,” he said. “So I am still me. The medal is just a dec­o­ra­tion that they thought I deserved.”

Petry was assigned to Com­pa­ny D, 2nd Bat­tal­ion, 75th Ranger Reg­i­ment, when he took part in the oper­a­tion that earned him the nation’s most pres­ti­gious medal.

On May 26, 2008, Petry — then a staff sergeant — and a pla­toon-plus of near­ly 60 Rangers flew by heli­copter into an area of Afghanistan’s Pak­tia province on a rare day­light raid to kill or cap­ture a high-val­ue Tal­iban tar­get.

“I was a lit­tle bit ner­vous, because day­light raids are rare for us,” he said, adding that Rangers nor­mal­ly launch such raids at night.

The men came under fire as soon as they land­ed, he said.

“Just to give you an idea of the ter­rain, it was a lot of mud walls, some farm fields … a rur­al envi­ron­ment [with] four or five dif­fer­ent lit­tle com­pounds with­in a small area.”

Dur­ing the now wide­ly report­ed fire­fight that fol­lowed, Petry was shot through both legs, which he said felt at the time as “a quick strike of the ham­mer” on his left thigh. He found cov­er with two younger Rangers, and report­ed by radio to the unit’s com­mand ele­ment.

A grenade explod­ed almost on top of the three men, and then Petry turned his head to see anoth­er grenade on the ground between him and the oth­er Rangers.

“I imme­di­ate­ly knew it wasn’t one of ours, because we haven’t used ‘pineap­ple’ grenades in quite some time,” he said. “[My] imme­di­ate reac­tion was, get it out of here.”

Petry said the grenade was “def­i­nite­ly inside the kill radius.”

“The kill radius is about 5 meters. We would have [been] def­i­nite­ly … if not def­i­nite­ly dead, not pret­ty, to say the least,” he said.

He grabbed the grenade and hurled it away from the men’s posi­tion, but it explod­ed as he released it, sev­er­ing his right hand.

“I didn’t feel any pain,” he said. “I looked at it. I remem­ber it so vivid­ly — the blood com­ing out, ooz­ing … the radius and ulna pok­ing up about a quar­ter of an inch. The smell was a mix­ture of blood, gun­pow­der, burn.”

His arm “looked pret­ty grotesque,” he said, but after a split sec­ond he fell back on his train­ing, applied a tourni­quet and radioed in: “We’re still tak­ing heavy con­tact. We’re get­ting small-arms fire. I just lost my hand. Over.”

Petry was evac­u­at­ed out short­ly after that, but the Army took note of his actions that day, ulti­mate­ly result­ing in the cita­tion a White House audi­ence heard this week. “Although pick­ing up and throw­ing the live grenade griev­ous­ly wound­ed Staff Sergeant Petry, his gal­lant act unde­ni­ably saved his fel­low Rangers from being severe­ly wound­ed or killed,” the cita­tion reads in part.

One Ranger, Army Spc. Christo­pher Gath­er­cole, died in that day’s fight­ing, and Petry said every year the men of Com­pa­ny D gath­er to remem­ber him and cel­e­brate his life. Petry said he is hon­ored to have Gathercole’s name on a list of fall­en Rangers inscribed on his pros­thet­ic arm. The bion­ic hand he now uses amazes him, he said.

Though “it’s nev­er going to be as fast as a real hand to pull a trig­ger again or bounce a bas­ket­ball,” he acknowl­edged, his pros­thet­ic arm accepts attach­ments designed for golf, a new sport for him, and a set of culi­nary knives he said he uses con­stant­ly in the kitchen to cook for his fam­i­ly. “I real­ly haven’t found too much that I need help with,” he said.

Petry said his recov­ery after his injuries was “the great­est time for me.”

“I’ve learned so much from oth­er ser­vice mem­bers who have been wound­ed and injured, he said, express­ing amaze­ment at the resilience he has seen in his fel­low wound­ed war­riors. “They’re all want­i­ng to go back [and] do some type of work,” he said.

Severe­ly injured war­riors dis­play lead­er­ship from the low­est lev­els, Petry said.

“Nobody thinks they’re ever the worst,” he said. “We try to moti­vate each oth­er.”

Petry still is a Ranger, and said when the time came to decide, he knew he would miss his “Ranger broth­ers” if he left the ser­vice.

“A job had come up where I could men­tor, lead and still help the Army,” he said. “So I chose to help wound­ed sol­diers … and their fam­i­lies, for the Spe­cial Oper­a­tions Com­mand in Flori­da.”

He works hard­er and longer hours in that job than he did as a com­bat sol­dier, Petry said, “but it’s just as reward­ing.”

Petry said while he nev­er expect­ed to earn the Medal of Hon­or, he wears it on behalf of his heroes in uni­form.

“All these offi­cers and sergeant majors … and young men and women when they join the ser­vice, who end up putting 20 years in, and still ded­i­cat­ed and say­ing, ‘Yes, I will, yes, I will — 30 years, 30-plus years,” he said. “How is that not a hero?”

Petry said his mes­sage to the coun­try and his fel­low ser­vice mem­bers is, “Nev­er for­get … your fall­en heroes who paid the ulti­mate sac­ri­fice, but embrace the liv­ing, those con­tin­u­ing to serve in the uni­formed ser­vices and those over­seas con­tin­u­ing in the fight.”

U.S. Depart­ment of Defense
Office of the Assis­tant Sec­re­tary of Defense (Pub­lic Affairs)

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