Leroy Arthur Petry
U.S. Army / Medal of Honor
Ranger saves soldiers’ lives by grabbing grenade, honored for self-sacrificing actions
Staff Sergeant Leroy Petry and a platoon of about 60 Rangers landed in a remote area of Afghanistan’s Paktia province in a daytime raid to kill or capture a high-value Taliban target. The mission on May 26, 2008, was a rarity, as most operations of the sort take place at night.
After landing, Petry and his fellow Rangers approached the compound where their target was believed to be hidden. Petry and three others cleared the buildings in an inner courtyard, then moved to an outer courtyard when gunfire suddenly erupted.
Two men appeared in the corner of Petry’s eye and began spraying AK-47 fire wildly from the hip. Petry was shot in both legs. Private 1st Class Lucas Robinson was hit in his side plate.
”Next thing I know,” Petry recalled, “I feel this slap in the side of my thigh – my left thigh felt like it had a hammer striking it, and it was a quick strike of the hammer… the only thing I could relate it to is the ‘Forrest Gump’ movie – something bit me and keep running, because that’s what we’re trained to do.”
The soldiers quickly went for cover to call for aid.
”We’ve got two rangers – two rangers down. We’re taking heavy contact,” Petry called into his radio while keeping an eye out to make sure that the enemy did not close in on them.
After Sgt. Daniel Higgins arrived to assist, the fire began to intensify, and the men heard a loud explosion nearly right on top of them.
“They’re throwing grenades,” Petry told Robinson and Higgins, who were injured in the blast. “Keep your heads down.” Just as he said this, a pineapple grenade landed about two and a half feet from where he was sitting. Instinctively, Petry reached over, grabbed it and threw it as hard as he could. However, just as he let it go, the grenade exploded, completely severing his right hand.
Relying on his training, Petry grabbed a tourniquet and tightened it to his limb. He then called up to higher command to inform them that they were still under heavy fire and that he had just lost his hand.
“I thought through my head, that probably wasn’t the best thing to put over the mic,” Petry later joked.
When another Ranger approached to evacuate Petry, he refused, pushing his hand away and saying, “You’re not taking me anywhere until you get those guys back there.”
Once at the casualty collection point, Petry realized he was seriously wounded. “The mind said keep going, but the body said, wait, we’re losing a lot of juice; you’ve got to stop and take a break.”
While being examined, Petry realized he had been shot through both legs – fortunately, the bullets had missed every major artery.
“It was a miracle,” he recalled. “And then to have a grenade go off within arm’s distance just about and the only thing walking away was shrapnel here and there and a prosthetic hand…I got two miracles in one day. And the third miracle was that the two guys next to me are alive and well.”
Petry was outfitted with a robotic hand. Subsequently he re-enlisted for eight more years, which would give him 20 years of service. He has deployed eight times, twice to Iraq and six times to Afghanistan.
Promoted to sergeant first class, Petry’s actions that day saved not only his own life, but the lives of two of his fellow Rangers. He was awarded the Medal of Honor by President Obama on July 12, 2011.
Petry became the ninth American to be awarded the nation’s highest military honor from battle in Iraq or Afghanistan, and the second living recipient from the era.
Despite the honor, he believes that he remains the same man, and same soldier, he was before. “It’s a – it’s a decoration,” he described it. “It’s not a depiction of who I am. So I am still me. The medal is just a decoration that they thought I deserved.
“As a young private…you always think, ‘oh yeah, it’d be great to get the Medal of Honor,’ (but) you never see yourself there.”
Tim Holbert is program director of the American Veterans Center in Arlington, Va.
Leroy Arthur Petry
U.S. Army / Medal of Honor
Born: July 29, 1979, Santa Fe, NM
Wife Ashley. Children Brittany, Austin, Reagan and Landon.
Enlisted in September 1999. At the time he was assigned to Weapons Squad Leader with D Company, 2nd Battalion, 75th Ranger Regiment.
Deployed twice to Iraq and six times to Afghanistan. First deployment was in 2002, to Afghanistan.
Currently assigned to Headquarters and Headquarters Company, 75th Ranger Regiment at Fort Benning, with duties as a liaison officer for the United States Special Operations Command Care Coalition—Northwest Region.
Why he joined the Army
“My cousin was serving in the 2nd Ranger Battalion when I was finishing high school. He explained a lot to me what the regiment did, and that was a sell for me.”
Afghanistan / Paktia Province