Inspiring stuff from yesterday’s New York Times. MP+

July 12, 2011

Rare White House Ceremony for Medal of Honor

WASHINGTON — President Obama grasped the prosthetic right hand of Sgt. First Class Leroy Arthur Petry in congratulations on Tuesday, awarding him the Medal of Honor for actions in Afghanistan that included saving two comrades’ lives by hurling away a grenade as it exploded.

Doug Mills/The New York Times
President Obama giving the medal to Leroy Arthur Petry.

This is only the second time since the Vietnam era that the nation’s highest military honor has been awarded to a soldier who survived combat in a conflict still under way; the other awards were given posthumously. Mr. Obama bestowed the first award last fall to another veteran of Afghanistan, Staff Sgt. Salvatore A. Giunta, who was present in the East Room along with medal recipients from past wars.

Seven Medals of Honor have gone to soldiers killed in Afghanistan or Iraq. Mr. Obama called them “members of the 9/11 generation” of service members.

Sergeant Petry, an Army Ranger and father of four who has served two combat tours in Iraq and six in Afghanistan, was nominated by his colleagues and honored for his actions on May 26, 2008. Then 28 years old, he came under fire with other Rangers during an operation in mountainous eastern Afghanistan, near Pakistan, to clear a compound where a top Qaeda commander was believed to be hiding among insurgents.

“Today we honor a singular act of gallantry,” Mr. Obama said at the White House ceremony. “Yet as we near the 10th anniversary of the attacks that thrust our nation into war, this is also an occasion to pay tribute to a soldier, and a generation, that has borne the burden of our security during a hard decade of sacrifice.”

Sergeant Petry was shot in both legs and was seeking cover behind a chicken coop with two other Rangers when a grenade exploded nearby, wounding the others. When a second grenade landed feet away, Sergeant Petry scooped it up and threw it as it detonated. The blast ripped away his right hand and filled him with shrapnel. He applied a tourniquet to his wrist and continued to radio for support and direct the operation before being evacuated.

Sergeant Petry was credited with saving the lives of the other soldiers, both of whom were at the White House. Mr. Obama told the audience that in an Oval Office meeting before the ceremony, Sergeant Petry “gave me the extraordinary privilege” of seeing a plaque bolted to his prosthetic hand and inscribed with the names of other Rangers from the 75th Regiment who have died.

“They are quite literally part of him, just like they will always be part of America,” Mr. Obama said.

Both before and after affixing the medal and its blue ribbon around Sergeant Petry’s neck, Mr. Obama grasped his right hand and shook it.

Mr. Obama also used the occasion to once again claim progress in Afghanistan. Quoting from President Ronald Reagan, who spoke of Rangers in World War II, Mr. Obama said of Sergeant Petry and other Afghanistan veterans, “These are the heroes who helped end a war.”