On this date, July 12, 2011, SFC Leroy Petry was awarded the Medal of Honor by President Obama in a White House ceremony attended by his family and those of his fellow soldiers. Petry was assigned to the 2nd Bn. 75th Ranger Regiment based in Joint Base Lewis-McChord in Washington.

Petry’s actions took place on his eighth deployment, two in Iraq during Operation Iraqi Freedom and six in Afghanistan supporting Operation Enduring Freedom. He had served in a number of positions in the Rangers, including as a grenadier, squad automatic rifleman, fire team leader, squad leader, operations sergeant, and a weapons squad leader.

Medal of Honor action During a Rare Daylight Raid:

On May 26, 2008, SSG Petry and his unit D Company, 2nd Bn., were on a mission in Paktia Province in Afghanistan.  The mission was a rare daylight raid to capture a high-value target from the Taliban. Petry and the platoon headquarters was to occupy the target building once it was secured.

The 70 Rangers immediately came into contact with about 40 Taliban after getting out of the helicopters on the target. The Taliban insurgents quickly took the Rangers under heavy fire. Petry took charge of an assaulting squad as they were clearing a building, and after it was secure, he and PFC Lucas Robinson went to clear an outer courtyard.

The courtyard had a chicken coop inside it as well as three Taliban insurgents. The Taliban fighters were only 15-20 feet away when they opened up on the pair as they came into view. Both were wounded.  Petry was hit by one round that went through both his legs and Robinson was hit on the armor plate protecting his side.

Petry led Robinson to the concealment behind the 8-foot tall chicken coop and radioed for assistance before throwing a thermobaric grenade over the wall. The Taliban responded in kind by tossing grenades over the wall at the Americans. Petry and Robinson were joined by SGT Daniel Higgins, who assessed the wounds of the two soldiers.

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The first grenade lobbed by the Taliban at their position landed just 30 feet away. The blast knocked all three Rangers to the ground, wounding Higgins and wounding Robinson a second time.

Running to the sound of battle to support their fellow Rangers, SSG James Roberts and SP4 Christopher Gathercole raced up to their three wounded comrades. It was then that a Taliban fighter threw another grenade, which landed only a few feet away from Higgins and Robinson. Petry didn’t hesitate, going against his instinct for self-survival he picked up the grenade and attempted to throw it back into the direction of the Taliban.

Petry later in an interview recalled his immediate reaction was “get it out of here, get it away from the guys and myself. And I reached over, leaned over to the right, grabbed it with my hand, and I threw it as hard as I could, what I thought was at the time. And as soon as I opened my hand to let it go, it just exploded instantly. And I came back, and the hand was completely severed off.”

The explosion from the grenade amputated his right hand and sprayed his body with shrapnel. But by putting himself in harm’s way,  Petry likely saved the two other soldiers from serious injury or death.

Petry coolly placed a tourniquet on his right arm. And then to the amazement of his fellow Rangers, he didn’t concern himself with his own wounds, he directed his troops and continued to give orders.

“I didn’t feel any pain,” Petry said. “It was odd. When I sat back up and saw my hand … I grabbed where my wrist was, and it was completely gone. I was waiting for the Hollywood squirt, blood to go flying in the air, but that didn’t happen. Then I went back to my military training, applied the tourniquet that I had.”

Roberts placed accurate fire on the Taliban fighters, suppressing them in the courtyard. However, another Taliban fighter on the east end of the courtyard fired, fatally wounding Gathercole, before Higgins and Robinson returned fire, killing that fighter.

The Rangers were then joined by the unit’s platoon sergeant, SFC Jerod Staidle, and their medic, SP4 Gary Depriest. Ignoring his own wounds, Petry ordered Depriest to treat Gathercole. He was then finally assisted by Staidle and Higgins to the casualty collection point.

As he was being evacuated, Petry’s Rangers marveled at his bravery and coolness under fire. One his Rangers came up to shake Petry’s other hand. This fellow Ranger later said that it was the first time he had shaken the hand of a “true American hero.”

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Recovery and a Return to Duty:

Petry’s wounds resulted in his right arm having to be amputated below the elbow. He was evacuated to an American hospital in Germany, where he spent several weeks in recovery before being transferred to Carl R. Darnall Army Medical Center in Fort Hood, Texas.

He now uses an advanced prosthetic in place of his right hand. His prosthetic has special attachments that allow him to play golf, use cutlery and cook and do most anything he could prior to that day in Afghanistan. On the prosthetic is a small plaque listing the names of the fallen Rangers of his regiment.  Dating back to Grenada, Petry carries a reminder with him of his Regiment’s heroes.

After recovering, Petry did not seek a medical discharge and elected to remain on active duty. He was told by the command that they were recommending him for the Medal of Honor.

Petry received the Medal of Honor from U.S. President Barack Obama on July 12, 2011, in a ceremony at the White House. He is the ninth recipient for actions in Iraq or Afghanistan. Petry later in 2011 attended the Medal of Honor ceremony of U.S. Marine Sergeant Dakota Meyer, the third living recipient of the medal since Vietnam.

The following is the remarks that President Obama made at Petry’s ceremony when he awarded him the Medal.

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.  Instead, this wounded Ranger, this 28-year-old man with 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?  What leads a person to risk everything so that others might live?  For answers, we don’t need to look far.  The roots of Leroy’s valor are all around us.

We see it in the sense of duty instilled by his family, who joins us today —- his father Larry, his mother Lorella, and his four brothers.  Growing up, the walls of their home were hung with pictures of grandfathers and uncles in uniform, leading a young Leroy to believe “that’s my calling, too.”    

We see it in the compassion of a high school student who overcame his own struggles to mentor younger kids to give them a chance.  We see it in the loyalty of an Army Ranger who lives by a creed:  “Never shall I fail my comrades.”  Or as Leroy puts it, “These are my brothers —- family just like my wife and kids —- and you protect the ones you love.”  And that’s what he did that day when he picked up that grenade and threw it back —- just as it exploded.

With that selfless act, Leroy saved his two Ranger brothers, and they are with us today.  His valor came with a price.  The force of the blast took Leroy’s right hand.  Shrapnel riddled his body.  Said one of his teammates, “I had never seen someone hurt so bad.”  So even his fellow Rangers were amazed at what Leroy did next.  Despite his grievous wounds, he remained calm.  He actually put on his own tourniquet.  And he continued to lead, directing his team, giving orders —- even telling the medics how to treat his wounds.

When the fight was won, as he lay in a stretcher being loaded onto a helicopter, one of his teammates came up to shake the hand that Leroy had left.  “That was the first time I shook the hand of someone who I consider to be a true American hero,” that Ranger said.  Leroy Petry “showed that true heroes still exist and that they’re closer than you think.” Sua Sponte

Photo Courtesy: The White House