Army Sgt. First Class Leroy Petry, center, recipient of the Medal of Honor,… (Jacquelyn Martin / Associated…)
President Obama awarded the Medal of Honor to Sgt. 1st Class Leroy Petry, lauding his "extraordinary heroism" during a solemn White House ceremony Tuesday that marked just the second time since Vietnam that the honor was bestowed to a living recipient.
Petry, an Army Ranger from New Mexico, lost his hand throwing a grenade away from two fellow soldiers during a fight with insurgents in Afghanistan's Paktia province in May 2008.
Petry had already been shot in both legs but could have dragged himself around a wall to save himself. Instead, he reached over and grabbed the grenade to eliminate the threat to two other soldiers close by, members of his unit told reporters last month.
"What compels such courage? What leads a person to risk everything so that others might live?" Obama asked before awarding the medal.
Petry's selfless act alone was deserving of the honor, and given his wounds he could have retired from the Army with honor. Instead, Obama said, Petry reenlisted indefinitely, and returned just this year from his eighth deployment.
"This is the stuff of which heroes are made. This is the strength, the devotion that makes our troops the pride of every American. And this is the reason that -- like a soldier named Leroy Petry -- America doesn't simply endure, we emerge from our trials stronger, more confident, with our eyes fixed on the future," Obama said.
Only nine Medals of Honor have been issued in the conflicts in Iraq and Afghanistan -- seven posthumously -- compared with 248 in Vietnam, 136 in Korea and 465 during World War II. About 3,400 have been granted since the Civil War.
The other living Medal of Honor recipient from the current wars is Army Staff Sgt. Salvatore Giunta, who rushed into enemy fire and pulled three wounded soldiers to safety in Afghanistan in 2007.
Petry, now 31 and the father of four, is stationed at Ft. Benning, Ga.
His family, along with the families of members of his unit, were on hand for the East Room ceremony Tuesday.
During an earlier meeting in the Oval Office, Obama said Petry showed him a small plaque bolted to his prosthetic arm, with the names of fallen Rangers from his 75th Regiment.
"They are, quite literally, part of him, just as they will always be part of America," Obama said.
Kim Murphy contributed to this report.