WASHINGTON (AP) - President Barack Obama awarded the nation's highest military honor Tuesday to Sgt. 1st Class Leroy Arthur Petry after describing how the soldier took enemy fire in Afghanistan but still grabbed a live grenade to save his comrades. "This is the stuff of which heroes are made," the president declared.
It was just the second time that a living, active-duty service member from the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan has received a Medal of Honor. Petry, who lost his hand in the incident and wears a prosthesis, looked on from a stage in the East Room with his wife and children in the audience as the president described his heroics that day.
It unfolded on May 26, 2008, in the remote east of Afghanistan, as Petry — then a staff sergeant — and other Rangers choppered toward an insurgent compound, the president said. As soon as they landed they came under automatic weapon fire, and Petry was hit in his legs. He fell, but as grenades came flying toward him and his comrades he picked one up and tried to hurl it back before it exploded. Petry's right hand was blown off but two of his fellow soldiers were saved.
And still Petry kept going, issuing orders to help his unit fight and win.
It was "something extraordinary," Obama said.
Even after the incident in Afghanistan, Petry didn't seek to leave the Army, instead staying enlisted and even returning to Afghanistan for an eighth deployment last year, the president said, before hanging the Medal of Honor around Petry's neck.
Petry, a Santa Fe, N.M., native who now serves with the 75th Ranger Regiment at Fort Benning, Ga., spoke to reporters outside the White House after the ceremony. He sought to turn attention away from himself and toward other Rangers, service members and military families.
"To be singled out is very humbling. I consider every one of our men and women in uniform serving here, abroad, to be our heroes," Petry said. "They sacrifice every day and deserve your continued support and recognition."
The ceremony coincided with the accolade's 149th anniversary. On July 12, 1862, President Abraham Lincoln signed the bill passed by Congress authorizing the Medal of Honor.
The first living, active-duty service member who fought in Iraq or Afghanistan to get the Medal of Honor was Staff Sgt. Salvatore Giunta, who received the honor last fall for his actions chasing down the Taliban in Afghanistan in 2007.