After eight tours of duty and a lost hand, Army Ranger receives Medal of Honor.
Sgt. First Class Leroy Petry smiles as President Obama applauds him at the ceremony where Petry received the Medal of Honor. CNN Photo by Lesa Jansen.
July 12th, 2011
05:17 PM ET

After eight tours of duty and a lost hand, Army Ranger receives Medal of Honor.

WASHINGTON (CNN) - An Army Ranger who lost his right hand while tossing an enemy grenade away from fellow soldiers received the Medal of Honor Tuesday.

President Barack Obama presented the nation's highest medal for bravery to Sgt. First Class Leroy Petry for what the president called "a singular act of gallantry."

Petry was serving in Paktia, Afghanistan, in May 2008 when his Ranger unit was assigned to capture a high-value target in a helicopter raid.

"The mission is high risk. It's broad daylight," Obama said. "The insurgents are heavily armed, but it's considered a risk worth taking because intelligence indicates that a top al Qaeda commander is in that compound."

According to the president and Army documents about the raid, Petry, a staff sergeant at the time, saw that some of his fellow soldiers were running into resistance clearing part of the primary target building. So he went to help.

At one point he and another soldier, Pfc. Lucas Robinson, were in the courtyard of the building when enemy gunmen opened fire from just 10 yards away, wounding both men.

"Leroy is hit in both legs. He's bleeding badly, but he summons the strength to lead the other ranger to cover," the president said at the White House ceremony.

With a bullet wound in each leg, Petry called for help and fought back. The enemy fighters were still firing on them when a third Ranger, Sgt. Daniel Higgins, arrived to help Petry and Robinson.

Moments later, an enemy threw a grenade that blew up 30 feet from the men, injuring Higgins and further injuring Robinson.

"Then a second grenade lands, this time only a few feet away," Obama said. "Every human impulse would tell someone to turn away. Every soldier is trained to seek cover. That's what Sgt. Leroy Petry could have done."

But he didn't.

The grenade had landed next to his wounded comrades and, according to an Army website detailing the fight: "Recognizing the threat that the enemy grenade posed to his fellow Rangers, Petry - despite his own wounds and with complete disregard for his personal safety - consciously and deliberately risked his life to move to and secure the live enemy grenade and consciously throw the grenade away from his fellow Rangers."

The grenade exploded just as he let go, blowing his right hand off and peppering Petry with shrapnel. Now wounded a second time, Petry remained composed and focused on the fight.

"Even his fellow Rangers were amazed at what Leroy did next," Obama said. "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."

Higgins later wrote, "If not for Staff Sergeant Petry's actions, we would have been seriously wounded or killed," according to the Army News Service.

About 100 members of Petry's family were at the White House to watch Obama drape the iconic blue ribbon and gold star medal around Petry's neck. Among them were his wife, Ashley, and their four children.

Petry, according to an Army profile, longed to be a soldier since he was 7 years old growing up in New Mexico. He enlisted in 1999 after graduating from St. Catherine's Indian High School in Santa Fe. He became a Ranger shortly after training and ended up serving two tours of duty in Iraq and five in Afghanistan.

After that day in the courtyard where he lost his hand, he chose to go back for a sixth tour of duty with his Ranger battalion, fighting in the worst places in Afghanistan with only one good hand and a body still riddled with shrapnel wounds.

He already has two Bronze Medals, three Army Commendation Medals, two Army Achievement Medals and a Purple Heart.

Petry is still on active duty with the Army Rangers, assigned to Fort Benning, Georgia. He also is in college studying for a business degree, and enjoys golfing, fishing and hunting.

He and Army Staff Sgt. Salvatore Giunta are the only two living recipients of the Medal of Honor from the Iraq and Afghan wars, according to the U.S. military.

After all was done Tuesday in the White House East Room, Petry made a brief statement to reporters on the North Lawn, thanking his family, the medical workers who cared for him and the soldiers who continue to serve in combat overseas.

"To be singled out was very humbling," he said. "I consider every one of our men and women in uniform serving here, abroad to be our heroes. Those - all of the uniformed services. They sacrifice every day and deserve your continued support and recognition."

He urged Americans to keep service members in their thoughts.

"The greatest reward any service member can get is a simple, 'thank you,'" he said.

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Filed under: Afghanistan • Al Qaeda • Military
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