Today, President Obama awarded Sgt. 1st Class Leroy Arthur Petry the Medal of Honor for his heroic actions in Afghanistan, joining Army Staff Sgt. Salvatore Giunta as the only living recipients of the award since the Vietnam War. The Army explains his actions that earned him the highest military decoration offered by our country:
During his last mission, Petry was to locate himself with the platoon headquarters in the target building once it was secured. There, he was to serve as the senior noncommissioned officer at the site for the remainder of the operation.
But things quickly got dangerous for Petry and his team. Insurgents opened fire on Petry and his men.
Petry had fellow Ranger Pvt. 1st Class Lucas Robinson at his side. The two were to clear the outer courtyard of the target building. It was there the two first saw the enemy.
“I remember seeing the guy out of my peripheral vision,” Petry said. “Two guys with AKs at their hip, just spraying. And one happened to strike me right in the thighs. I didn’t know I was hit in both thighs, but it hit my left thigh.”
Robinson was also hit, Petry said. “He was struck right in his ribcage on his left side and he continued along and followed behind me.”
While wounded and under enemy fire, Petry led Robinson to the cover of a chicken coop in the courtyard. The enemy continued to deliver fire at the two Soldiers.
Petry reported contact was made with the enemy, and as a result, team member Sgt. Daniel Higgins moved to the outer courtyard. As Higgins moved toward the chicken coop to meet with the two wounded Soldiers, Petry threw a thermobaric grenade toward the enemy. That explosion caused a lull in enemy fire.
As Higgins evaluated the wounds of both Petry and Robinsion, an insurgent threw a grenade over the chicken coop. The grenade landed about 10 meters from the three Rangers, knocked them to the ground, and wounded Higgins and Robinson.
With three Soldiers taking cover in the coop, an insurgent threw yet another grenade. This time, the grenade landed just a few feet from the three Soldiers — much closer than the earlier grenade.
“It was almost instinct — off training,” Petry said of his response to the situation. “It was probably going to kill all three of us. I had time to visually see the hand grenade. And I figure it’s got about a four-and-half second fuse, depending on how long it has been in the elements and the weather and everything and how long the pin has been pulled. I figure if you have time to see it you have time to kick it, throw it, just get it out there.”
That’s when Petry picked up the grenade and threw it away from him and his buddies. As it turns out, he did have the time to save all three of their lives — but not time to save his hand.
The grenade exploded as he threw it — destroying his throwing arm.
“I actually didn’t think it was going to go off,” Petry said. “I didn’t really feel much pain. I didn’t know it had gone off and taken my hand until I sat back up and saw it was completely amputated at the wrist.”
Thanks to a prosthetic hand and the unbridled desire to continue being a badass, Sgt. 1st Class Petry was able to re-enlist with the Rangers last year.