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President Barack Obama awards US Army Sergeant First Class Leroy Arthur Petry of Santa Fe, New Mexico the Medal of Honor for his valor in Afghanistan, July 12, 2011

July 12, 2011

“The soldier in uniform extended his prosthetic hand after losing his own in battle. And the commander in chief who sent him there reached out to clasp it.

It was a sobering moment toward the end of a moving ceremony at the White House Tuesday, as President Barack Obama awarded the nation’s highest military honour to Sgt. 1st Class Leroy Arthur Petry for his brave actions to protect his comrades in the firefight that cost him his right hand,” reports Erica Werner of AP News.

In later comments, Mf. Petry, a Santa Fe, N.M., native who now serves with the 75th Ranger Regiment at Fort Benning, Ga., sought to turn attention away from himself and toward other service members and military families.

“To be singled out is very humbling. I consider every one of our men and women in uniform serving here, abroad, to be our heroes,” Mr. Petry told reporters outside the White House. “They sacrifice every day and deserve your continued support and recognition.”

REUTERS

Mr. Obama described Petry’s action as a “selfless act” that saved his fellow troops. The president said Tuesday’s ceremony was to honor what he called Petry’s “singular act of gallantry,” and also to pay tribute to a generation that he said has borne the burden of the nation’s security during a decade of war.

The president described his heroism that day.

It unfolded on May 26, 2008, in the remote east of Afghanistan, as Mr. Petry — then a staff sergeant — and other Rangers choppered toward an insurgent compound, the president said. As soon as they landed they came under automatic weapon fire, and Mr. Petry was hit in his legs. He fell, but as grenades came flying toward him and his comrades he picked one up

“This 28-year-old man with his whole life ahead of him, this husband and father of four, did something extraordinary,” Mr. Obama said. “He lunged forward, toward the live grenade. He picked it up. He cocked his arm to throw it back.”

Before Mr. Petry could release the grenade it exploded. Mr. Petry’s right hand was blown off, but two of his fellow soldiers were saved.

Speaking after the ceremony, Petry said to be singled out is “very humbling.” The 31-year-old said he considers all service members to be heroes. He said they sacrifice every day and deserve continued support and recognition.

Since enlisting in the Army in 1999, Petry has been deployed twice to Iraq and six times to Afghanistan. The married father of four now works as a liaison officer at Fort Benning in Georgia and helps wounded service members and their families.

A robotic prosthetic hand has helped him overcome his injury. Petry told the Army News Service that it “feels great” to shake people’s hands.

Petry is the 9th service member to receive the Medal of Honor for actions in the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. The only other living soldier to receive the honor for those conflicts was Army Staff Sergeant Salvatore Giunta, who was cited last year for heroism in Afghanistan.

The Medal of Honor is the nation’s highest military decoration. Tuesday’s ceremony coincided with the accolade’s 149th anniversary. On July 12, 1862, President Abraham Lincoln signed the bill passed by Congress authorizing the Medal of Honor.

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