Newest Medal of Honor Recipient Says He's 'Still Me'
by Karen Parrish - July 16, 2011
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
WASHINGTON, July 14, 2011 – 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 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
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.
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.”
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
“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.”
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.
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.”
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
The bionic hand he now uses amazes him,
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.
warriors display leadership from the lowest levels,
“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.”
harder and longer hours in that job than he did as a
combat soldier, Petry said, “but it's just as
Petry said while he never
expected to earn the Medal of Honor, he wears it on
behalf of his heroes in uniform.
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?”
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.”
By Karen Parrish
American Forces Press Service
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