Obama Awards Medal of Honor to Army Ranger

WASHINGTON, July 12, 2011 — Pres­i­dent Barack Oba­ma today award­ed the country’s high­est mil­i­tary hon­or to Sgt. 1st Class Leroy A. Petry, an Army Ranger who was shot in both legs and had his hand blown off while sav­ing his fel­low sol­diers dur­ing a fire­fight in Afghanistan.

Medal of Honor
Army Sgt. 1st Class Leroy A. Petry received the Medal of Hon­or at a July 12, 2011, White House cer­e­mo­ny for con­spic­u­ous gal­lantry in com­bat.
U.S. Army pho­to
Click to enlarge

Petry became only the sec­ond liv­ing vet­er­an of the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq to receive the award, which Oba­ma pre­sent­ed dur­ing a White House cer­e­mo­ny attend­ed by Petry, his wife and four chil­dren, and more than a hun­dred of his fam­i­ly mem­bers, most­ly from his native New Mex­i­co.

Deputy Defense Sec­re­tary William J. Lynn III, Vice Chair­man of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Marine Corps Gen. James E. Cartwright, Army Sec­re­tary John M. McHugh and Army Chief of Staff Gen. Mar­tin E. Dempsey also attend­ed the cer­e­mo­ny, as did the mem­bers of the leg­endary Delta Com­pa­ny, 2nd Bat­tal­ion, 75th Ranger Reg­i­ment, with which Petry served.

Call­ing Petry, 31, “a true hero,” Oba­ma recount­ed how the sol­dier was on his sev­enth com­bat deploy­ment in Afghanistan on May 26, 2008, when he took part in a high-risk day­time oper­a­tion to cap­ture an insur­gent leader in a com­pound in Pak­tia province, near the Pak­istan bor­der.

As heli­copters deliv­ered Petry and the oth­er Rangers into the area, they were met with heavy auto­mat­ic weapons fire. Petry and Sgt. Lucas Robin­son were wound­ed as they moved to secure a back court­yard. The two found cov­er behind a chick­en coop and were joined by Sgt. Daniel Hig­gins, a team leader, who was assess­ing their wounds when an ene­my grenade injured Robin­son and Hig­gins.

Two more Rangers, Staff Sgt. James Roberts and Spc. Christo­pher Gath­er­cole, came to help just as anoth­er grenade was lobbed at the unit.

“Every human impulse would tell a per­son to turn away,” Oba­ma said. “Every sol­dier is trained to seek cov­er. That’s what Sergeant Petry could have done.” Instead, he said, Petry did some­thing extra­or­di­nary: he picked up the grenade to throw it back.

“What com­pels a per­son to risk every­thing so that oth­ers might live?” the pres­i­dent asked. He said the “roots of Leroy’s val­or are all around us” in the pres­ence of his par­ents, four broth­ers, and oth­er fam­i­ly mem­bers. Oba­ma said Petry answered the ques­tion while meet­ing with him before the cer­e­mo­ny, say­ing that his fel­low sol­diers are his broth­ers, and he pro­tect­ed them just as he would his fam­i­ly.

“With that self­less act, Leroy saved two of his Ranger broth­ers, and they are with us today,” he said.

Petry, shot in both legs by assault-rifle fire, picked up the grenade to throw it back at the ene­my, and it det­o­nat­ed, ampu­tat­ing his right hand. Still, Oba­ma said, Petry “remained calm, put on his own tourni­quet, and con­tin­ued to lead, even telling medics how to treat his wounds.”

Today, Petry has a small plaque attached to his pros­thet­ic arm with names of the 75th Regiment’s fall­en, includ­ing Gath­er­cole, who was killed in the oper­a­tion for which Petry was hon­ored. Oba­ma paid trib­ute to Gathercole’s fam­i­ly at today’s cer­e­mo­ny.

“Leroy Petry shows us that true heroes still exist, and they are clos­er than you think,” the pres­i­dent said. “There are heroes all around us. They are the mil­lions in uni­form who have served for the past 10 years.” They are the force behind the force, the pres­i­dent added, cit­ing Ash­ley Petry, who kept their fam­i­ly “Army strong” while her hus­band was deployed.

Petry, who enlist­ed in 1999 and also served two deploy­ments in Iraq, could have retired with hon­ors. Instead, Oba­ma said, he chose to re-enlist indef­i­nite­ly, and recent­ly com­plet­ed his eighth deploy­ment in Afghanistan, despite con­tin­u­ing to strug­gle with his wounds.

“His ser­vice speaks to the very essence of Amer­i­ca: no mat­ter how hard the jour­ney, no mat­ter how steep the climb, we don’t give up,” the pres­i­dent said.

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

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