During 2019, Freedoms Foundation and the Friends of the Medal of Honor Grove are paying tribute to the living recipients of the Medal of Honor on the anniversary of the actions for which they earned the nation’s highest award for valor. The series continues with a look at Staff Sgt. Leroy Petry, who saved the lives of his fellow Army Rangers in Paktya Province, Afghanistan, on May 26, 2008.
Leroy Petry’s Medal of Honor citation reads:
“Staff Sergeant Leroy A. Petry distinguished himself by acts of gallantry and intrepidity at the risk of his life above and beyond the call of duty in action with an armed enemy in the vicinity of Paktya Province, Afghanistan, on May 26, 2008.
“As a Weapons Squad Leader with D Company, 2nd Battalion, 75th Ranger Regiment, Staff Sergeant Petry moved to clear the courtyard of a house that potentially contained high-value combatants. While crossing the courtyard, Staff Sergeant Petry and another Ranger were engaged and wounded by automatic weapons fire from enemy fighters.
“Still under enemy fire, and wounded in both legs, Staff Sergeant Petry led the other Ranger to cover. He then reported the situation and engaged the enemy with a hand grenade, providing suppression as another Ranger moved to his position. The enemy quickly responded by maneuvering closer and throwing grenades. The first grenade explosion knocked his two fellow Rangers to the ground and wounded both with shrapnel.
“A second grenade then landed only a few feet away from them. Instantly realizing the danger, Staff Sergeant Petry, unhesitatingly and with complete disregard for his safety, deliberately and selflessly moved forward, picked up the grenade, and in an effort to clear the immediate threat, threw the grenade away from his fellow Rangers. As he was releasing the grenade it detonated, amputating his right hand at the wrist and further injuring him with multiple shrapnel wounds.
“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. Despite the severity of his wounds, Staff Sergeant Petry continued to maintain the presence of mind to place a tourniquet on his right wrist before communicating the situation by radio in order to coordinate support for himself and his fellow wounded Rangers.
“Staff Sergeant Petry’s extraordinary heroism and devotion to duty are in keeping h the highest traditions of military service, and reflect great credit upon himself, 75th Ranger Regiment, and the United States Army.”
Stars and Stripes interviewed Petry after he received the Medal of Honor from President Barack Obama at the White House on July 12, 2011:
When the explosion severed his hand, Petry was already fueled by adrenaline and anger from his earlier wounds.
“I didn’t feel any pain,” he 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.”
In fact, Petry’s men said he continued to bark orders and point out enemy locations, even as he struggled to deal with his own wounds. Another soldier, Spc. Christopher Gathercole, was fatally wounded in the ensuing gunfight. But the other soldiers eventually killed the enemy fighters.
As they evacuated Petry from the site, he joked that he should have used his left hand, since he was right-handed, and he remained calm as medics tended to his injuries. …
He spent 28 months in Iraq and Afghanistan before that attack, earning two Bronze Stars and three Army Commendation Medals.
Petry said that he has more anxiety about being hailed as a hero than he ever did on the battlefield.
“Having people come up and say, ‘Thank you’ has always been special to me,” he said. “That’s the greatest reward a servicemember can get. But to have them call me a hero, that’s a little difficult. I have my heroes too. I guess that makes my heroes superheroes? There are a lot of people out there who deserve recognition.”
Petry has spoken with a number of previous Medal of Honor recipients in the weeks since his award was announced, including former Staff Sgt. Salvatore Giunta, the first living recipient from Afghanistan. He said they warned him that “it’s a lot easier to earn the medal than it is to wear it.”
Still, Petry said he hopes the attention on him will focus the public on his fellow troops. Despite his injuries, he said he doesn’t regret his actions at all.
“Knowing that (the two other soldiers near the grenade) continued to go on missions, re-enlisting, and knowing their families and my own didn’t have to suffer a lost life that day, that makes it worth it,” he said. “I’m fortunate that even having lost a limb, I can say I lost it doing something I wanted to.”
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