'Living Memorial': Medal of Honor Recipient Pays Tribute to Fallen Soldiers
The nation’s highest military award for valor rode along Pinehurst No. 2 in a golf cart Saturday — along with the Army Ranger who wears it.
Sgt. 1st Class Leroy Arthur Petry was wearing his golf arm for the game. His other forearm and hand, along with the medal in its case, was along for the ride.
Petry was in Pinehurst to deliver the keynote address that evening at a Joint Special Operations Command dinner at the Carolina Hotel. The resort treated him and a couple of friends to a day on the famed course. They played nine holes, then it was back to the hotel to work on his speech. The banquet was not open to the press or public.
“It will be my privilege to be with them and give me an opportunity to thank them for what they do,” Petry said, warming up with a few practice swings before tee time. “We just show up to the target and kick down the door. They are the ones that have all that planning and intel, get us to the right place — give us all the assets that we need to do our job.”
Doing his job cost Petry his right hand. He lost it grabbing and deflecting a grenade in Afghanistan on May 26, 2008. He had been shot through both legs, but bandaged himself, led another Ranger to cover and radioed for help. He tossed a grenade to cover a third Ranger rushing to aid them.
Both comrades had been wounded by an exploding enemy grenade when another grenade landed a few feet away.
“Every human impulse would tell someone to turn away,” President Obama said last June at the White House award ceremony. “Every soldier is trained to seek cover. That’s what Sgt. Leroy Petry could have done. Instead, this wounded Ranger, this 28-year-old man with his whole life ahead of him, this husband and father of four, did something extraordinary. He lunged forward, toward the live grenade. He picked it up. He cocked his arm to throw it back.”
The grenade blew up, taking his hand and riddling him with shrapnel. Petry again applied a tourniquet and continued to lead his team, Obama said. Today Petry, helps care for other wounded warriors, inspiring them with his example.
“The job I am doing right now is working with wounded soldiers,” he said. “The first patient I got to work with was a soldier that got shot through both thighs.”
Petry pointed to his own upper legs where he’d been hit.
“It was almost the exact same wound, except his broke his femur,” he said. “His family drove up from Kentucky, were at Fort Lewis in the emergency room. They hadn’t seen their son yet and were trying to see him. I’m trying to calm them down, saying ‘Hey, he’s getting X-rays; he’ll be in his room soon.’ I’m trying to talk to them a little about my situation. At the end of the visit, they were comforted a lot. They could say, ‘We’ve seen his injuries and — knowing yours — we know it will just take time for him to recover, and he’ll be OK.’”
Petry finds the work he does now more than a little inspiring.
“I get to see the resiliency in all these soldiers and their great attitudes,” Petry said. “One kid had lost all four limbs, but just the greatest attitude. What we think are severe wounds are minor compared to some of these. A friend of mind burnt 90 percent over his body, but survived. The medical advances of the doctors are amazing.
“Here he is, going through the hospital down in San Antonio, and got up the nerve to ask his dietician out on a date. Dietician said yes, and they just had a baby not long ago. They are doing great, married, and — it’s just one of those great stories that gives confidence to other guys. As long as you don’t give up hope, you can achieve anything.”
‘Part of Him’
The medal gives Petry the chance to talk about what others are doing. During the ceremony, he had leaned over to whisper in the president’s ear. Many asked him what he’d said.
“Of course, I could say anything,” Petry said with a grin. “But what I said was, ‘It’s a heavy honor to accept, but it makes it a little bit easier knowing it represents all armed services, veterans and active.’ On my prosthetic that I normally wear, I keep a living memorial.”
Petry retrieved his electronic prosthesis from its bag in the cart and replaced the golf grip. He flexed his bionic fingers and gave a firm handshake. Turning his hand over, Petry showed the plate he wears wherever he goes, the one the president described at the ceremony.
“On it are the names of the fallen Rangers from the 75th Regiment,” Obama said. “They are, quite literally, part of him, just as they will always be part of America.”
He re-enlisted in 2010, an unlimited enlistment.
“I plan to make it a career and stay in the Army,” Petry said.
He is studying at Pierce College while at Joint Base Lewis-McChord, Wash., with plans to earn a bachelor’s degree in business management. Petry’s life has changed after the medal, but changed in a way he considers an opportunity.
“A lot of people ask how I cope with travel and stuff,” Petry said. “I say, you never see a general — or you are lucky to see a general or Medal of Honor recipient in your whole career. So I say I know if I can do that for other people, it is my honor.
“I went to a hospital yesterday — on my own time. Womack. I wanted to meet other wounded soldiers. We were looking for the combat wounded soldiers, and they said, ‘We don’t have any.’ That’s a great thing, I said.
“We went in and saw this old retired sergeant major. We went in, and his wife was there, and went to say hi to him and see how he was doing. He almost brought tears to my eyes. He sat up, and he said, ‘Never in my life would I think I was going to meet a Medal of Honor recipient.’ It is my honor to go in and spend time with such people.”
The Army assigned Sgt. 1st Class Michael Noggle to help Petry juggle his schedule. Noggle serves with the Army Special Operations Command at Fort Bragg.
“My role is to assist Sgt. 1st Class Petry, make sure he gets from place to place,” Noggle said. “You know why it is so important? Because nobody sees them. Nobody sees them in the uniform, still serving. We still have more than 84 still living. Nobody sees them.”
Petry doesn’t understand why so little attention is paid in the news to these valiant soldiers when they die.
“The big media — CNN, Fox, the television media — when a Medal of Honor recipient passes, there is little said. One great man, Col. (Robert L.) Howard, whom I got to meet — the most heavily decorated man in Vietnam — when he passed on, there was only a 10-second ticker at the bottom of the screen. That was it.”
Petry was sorry his time in Pinehurst was so limited. He said he wished he could have visited more of the soldiers.
“I especially like the golf community,” he said. “I don’t think I could have found one golfer that doesn’t like the military. Before all the Army’s fancy stuff, the readers and stuff, golfers were the best at (sighting along his lifted club) … estimating range.”
He has one thing he always asks people to do wherever he goes.
“It’s the same message I always tell at everything,” Petry said. “Thank soldiers when you see them — and their families.”
Contact John Chappell at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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