Javier Rivera, William Parker, Leroy Petry
Ralph Lauer  /  AP
US servicemen, from left to right, Cpl. Javier Rivera, Pfc. William Parker and Staff Sgt. Leroy Petry watch the Dallas Mavericks against the Charlotte Bobcats NBA basketball game from the front row on "Seats For Soldiers" night on in Dallas.
updated 6/3/2011 6:49:13 PM ET 2011-06-03T22:49:13

An Army sergeant who will receive the Medal of Honor likes to prank people by showing them the prosthetic he got after losing a hand when he tried to toss away an enemy grenade to protect his colleagues in Afghanistan.

"He loves putting out his prosthetic hand when he first meets people," said Bertha Petry, the grandmother of Sgt. 1st Class Leroy Arthur Petry. "The hand turns all the way around. He likes to see the look on people's faces."

The soldier's family told the Santa Fe New Mexican in Friday's edition that Petry has kept a bright outlook despite the injuries he suffered in Afghanistan on May 2008.

"He never felt sorry for himself," said Petry's father, Larry Petry.

The White House announced Tuesday that Petry, a native of Santa Fe, N.M., will be the second living, active-duty soldier to receive the nation's highest military honor for actions in Iraq or Afghanistan. The ceremony will be July 12.

Petry served with the 75th Ranger Regiment when he was wounded during a raid to capture a target, according to a report from the Army News Service.

He and a colleague were shot while clearing a courtyard, and a bullet pierced both of Petry's legs. While taking cover, another Army soldier arrived and they were attacked with a grenade, which injured Petry's two colleagues, according to the report.

When a second grenade landed near them, Petry grabbed it and tried to toss it away, but it exploded in his hand.

One of the soldiers, Sgt. Daniel Higgins, said Petry's actions prevented them from being seriously wounded or killed.

Petry has said he doesn't want to do media interviews until after the award ceremony.

Petry, 31, was nicknamed "Powderpuff" by the assistant coach of his youth football team, and his grandmother referred to him as "Mister Fix It," the newspaper reported.

It said Petry struggled through high school, was close to flunking his classes, and got into fights. But he graduated in 1998 and surprised his family with his decision to join the Army because he had never talked about it previously.

Story: A medal's burden: Honoring unheralded heroes

However, his aunt, Karen Drysdale, said serving in the military ran in his blood because other family members have enlisted for generations.

Petry completed multiple combat tours totaling 28 months of deployments to Afghanistan and Iraq. Previous decorations include two Bronze Stars, a Purple Heart and three Army Commendation Medals.

Slideshow: Medal of Honor recipients (on this page)

"He says he was just doing his job," Larry Petry said, referring to his son's actions in Afghanistan.

Wonderful surprise
During rehabilitation for his injuries, Sgt. Petry's family said doctors told him it was possible he would never walk again because of the wounds he suffered to his legs. That prognosis did not deter him.

"When a nurse tried to bring a wheelchair, Leroy pushed it away," Larry Petry said. "He told me, 'I'm going to walk again.'"

Since then, he has become an avid golfer and learned to water ski with one hand.

He now works at Joint Base Lewis-McChord, south of Seattle, where he helps injured Rangers returning from deployment.

For months, his family has known that he was nominated for the Medal of Honor. Still, they say the honor Sgt. Petry is set to receive was a wonderful surprise.

"It is taking time to sink in," Larry Petry said.

Copyright 2011 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

Video: Inspired by a hero, Obama goes off-script

  1. Transcript of: Inspired by a hero, Obama goes off-script

    BRIAN WILLIAMS, anchor: to turn now to what happened at the White House today. The president awarded the Medal of Honor , this nation's highest military decoration , to a young staff sergeant who's already a combat veteran of the war in Afghanistan . When we met him in Washington yesterday, Staff Sergeant Salvatore Giunta told me he remembers the night a few years ago when he was mopping up at the Subway restaurant where he worked. He heard a radio commercial about a free T-shirt giveaway by Army recruiters at the local shopping mall the next day. He went to the mall. He got his T-shirt and he listened to them. He then went home and broke it to his parents that an Army career appealed to him. Well, fast forward to today. Sal Giunta was hailed by President Obama as the very best shining example of the US Armed Forces .

    President BARACK OBAMA: It is my privilege to present our nation's highest military decoration , the Medal of Honor , to a soldier as humble as he is heroic, Staff Sergeant Salvatore A. Giunta .

    WILLIAMS: And with that, a modest 25-year-old soldier from Hiawatha , Iowa , joined a long line of this nation's very best, dating back to the Civil War .

    Pres. OBAMA: I'm going to go off script here for a second and just say, I really like this guy.

    WILLIAMS: Giunta 's act of valor took place during a fierce fire fight in Afghanistan 's remote Korengal Valley . His platoon was pinned down when he saw two insurgents carrying off his mortally wounded sergeant. Giunta ran into the oncoming fire. He killed one insurgent, wounded the other, and dragged his friend to cover. Sergeant Joshua Brennan later died following the fire fight that left two Americans dead and five wounded.

    Staff Sergeant SALVATORE GIUNTA: The thing that I did, that is so well documented now and so talked about over and over again, I was only able to do that because everyone else was doing everything they could. I -- there was nothing else for me to do but that. If I didn't do that, I would have been wrong.

    WILLIAMS: He is the first living recipient of the Medal of Honor in nearly 40 years. The last recipient who was alive to receive the nation's top military honor served during the Vietnam War .

    Pres. OBAMA: This medal today is a testament to his uncommon valor, but also to the parents and the community that raised him, the military that trained him, and all the men and women who served by his side.

    WILLIAMS: And when the president places the medal around your neck, you will, in fact, feel that you're wearing it for a whole bunch of guys. And you'll get there mentally, but I guess you realize that's the journey you have to be on now.

    Staff Sgt. GIUNTA: It's all kind of fallen into place that way, but there's no way I can wear the Medal of Honor for myself. I can't. It's too big for me. I can't bear that myself. It's not for me. If I'm going to be the one that's up there and gets it, that's fine. But by no means is that mine. I'm just the one there at that time. It's for all these people from Iraq and Afghanistan . All of these unsung heroes.

    WILLIAMS: What an incredible young man. The last seven Medal of Honor recipients , by the way, were killed in action in Iraq and Afghanistan . As of today , Sergeant Giunta becomes the 87th living recipient of the Medal of Honor . We'll take

Photos: Pre-9/11

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  1. George Sakato, 1921 –

    Says MSNBC military analyst Jack Jacobs, “Sakato was a member of the legendary 442nd Regimental Combat Team, composed almost entirely of Japanese-Americans who had been classified as undesirable aliens – and it became the most decorated unit in the Army in World War II.” When his platoon was pinned down in France, Sakato rushed the enemy’s position. He killed 12, wounded two and captured four.

    With the exception of those who served in Iraq and Afghanistan, the following images come from the book "Medal of Honor: Potraits of Valor Beyond the Call of Duty." Over 3000 people have received the honor; a selection of the recipients appear in the following slideshow.
    (Nick Del Calzo / Congressional Medal of Honor Foundation) Back to slideshow navigation
  2. Joe Foss, 1915-2003

    As a captain, he led a Marine air unit (“Joe’s Flying Circus”) that shot down 72 Japanese planes. He downed 26 himself, tying a record set in World War I. Foss went on to serve as governor of South Dakota, commissioner of the American Football League, and president of the National Rifle Association. Says MSNBC military analyst Jack Jacobs, “Shot down four times in the five-week battle for Guadalcanal, Joe Foss was a fearless Marine fighter pilot who led attacks against superior forces of Japanese air formations.” (Nick Del Calzo / Congressional Medal of Honor Foundation) Back to slideshow navigation
  3. Vernon Baker, 1919 – 2010

    His Distinguished Service Cross was upgraded to a Medal of Honor in 1997 after a military study concluded racial discrimination prevented some World War II awards from being given. As a second lieutenant, Baker fought in Italy, advancing his platoon despite enemy fire and covering the evacuation of wounded soldiers by taking an exposed position. He also led a voluntary advance through a minefield. Says MSNBC military analyst Jack Jacobs “Of his platoon of 25 men, only six survived the battle, and it was Baker’s leadership and individual courage that defeated the enemy.” (Nick Del Calzo / Congressional Medal of Honor Foundation) Back to slideshow navigation
  4. Bob Bush, 1926- 2005

    As a medical corpsman in the Navy, Bush tended to the injured in the battle of Okinawa in 1945. Despite a barrage of artillery, mortar and machine gun fire, Bush cared for the dying. Even after an eye injury, he fired a pistol and an abandoned carbine at the enemy to protect those around him. (Nick Del Calzo / Congressional Medal of Honor Foundation) Back to slideshow navigation
  5. Jack Lucas, 1928 – 2008

    Says MSNBC military analyst Jack Jacobs, “Lucas lied about his age and enlisted in the Marine Corps at the age of 13. At 14 he became an instructor.” As a private, Lucas fought in the battle of Iwo Jima. After an ambush, he flung himself on a grenade and threw another under himself to protect his comrades. (Nick Del Calzo / Congressional Medal of Honor Foundation) Back to slideshow navigation
  6. John Finn, 1909-2010

    Says MSNBC military analyst Jack Jacobs, “Roused from sleep by the attack, he raced to a nearby airfield and moved a machine gun into an exposed position, from which he shot at the attacking Japanese planes.” After receiving first aid, he returned to the squadron area and supervised the re-arming of returning planes during the Battle of Pearl Harbor. (Nick Del Calzo / Congressional Medal of Honor Foundation) Back to slideshow navigation
  7. Lewis Millet, 1920 - 2010

    As an Army captain in the Korean War, Millett led his company in an attack against a strongly-held position. He was in front, with a fixed bayonet, throwing grenades and shouting encouragement to the men behind him. The assault was successful, and despite injury, Millet refused evacuation until his company's position was secure. (Nick Del Calzo / Congressional Medal of Honor Foundation) Back to slideshow navigation
  8. Ronald Rosser, 1929 –

    During the Korean War, when this Army corporal found his men under fire from two directions, he turned his radio over to his assistant and charged the enemy positions armed with only carbine and a grenade. When he exhausted his ammunition, he returned through enemy fire to obtain more ammunition and grenades and charged the hill again. He returned three times to attack enemy positions. (Nick Del Calzo / Congressional Medal of Honor Foundation) Back to slideshow navigation
  9. Tibor Rubin, 1929 -

    This Hungarian-born, Holocaust survivor was an Army rifleman during the Korean War. During one mission, he defended a hill for 24 hours under enemy fire, allowing his company to withdraw to safety. Rubin spent more than two years in a POW camp. Drawing on his experience in a Nazi concentration camp, Rubin swiped food from Chinese and North Korean depots and distributed it among his comrades. Says MSNBC military analyst Jack Jacobs, “He was recommended four separate times for the Medal of Honor, but did not receive it until 2005.” (Nick Del Calzo / Congressional Medal of Honor Foundation) Back to slideshow navigation
  10. Sammy Davis, 1946 –

    During Vietnam, Sgt. Davis’ gun crew came under attack. Despite violent recoils, blasts and injuries, he manned a machine gun to provide cover for his comrades. Then, he picked up an air mattress and struck out across a river to rescue wounded men on the other side. And he didn't know how to swim. (Nick Del Calzo / Congressional Medal of Honor Foundation) Back to slideshow navigation
  11. Bernie Fisher, 1927 –

    During an attack on a special forces camp in Vietnam, Major Fisher observed a fellow airman crash land on an airstrip. Fisher landed his plane and taxied almost the full length of the runway, which was littered with debris and parts of an exploded aircraft. Despite heavy ground fire, he completed his rescue and was able to gain enough speed to take off successfully. (Nick Del Calzo / Congressional Medal of Honor Foundation) Back to slideshow navigation
  12. Roger Donlon, 1934 -

    During a pre-dawn attack on Camp Nam Dong, Capt. Donlon directed defense operations and aborted a breach of the main gate. Despite being wounded in his stomach, shoulder and leg, he crawled from position to position, retrieving weapons, ammunition and injured soldiers. He hurled grenades at the enemy and administered first aid to the wounded. He continued to move around the perimeter until a mortar shell wounded him in the face and body. (Nick Del Calzo / Congressional Medal of Honor Foundation) Back to slideshow navigation
  13. Ed Freeman, 1927 - 2008

    As a flight leader of a helicopter lift unit, Cpt. Freeman supported an infantry battalion in Vietnam. When his landing zone was closed due to direct enemy fire, he flew his unarmed helicopter regardless, risking his life to deliver ammunition and supplies to the soldiers on the ground. He also provided life-saving evacuations to some 30 wounded men. (Nick Del Calzo / Congressional Medal of Honor Foundation) Back to slideshow navigation
  14. Bob Howard, 1939 – 2009

    Howard was a platoon sergeant on a mission to rescue a missing soldier in Vietnam. He was wounded by a grenade explosion, but crawled through enemy fire to retrieve his injured platoon leader. He dragged him back to safety and rallied the soldiers to an organized defense. He then moved from position to position, tending to the injured. Howard supervised the loading of his men and did not leave the landing zone until all were in the air. (Nick Del Calzo / Congressional Medal of Honor Foundation) Back to slideshow navigation
  15. Tom Norris, 1944

    As a Navy SEAL during Vietnam, Lt. Norris completed a ground rescue of two downed pilots deep within enemy territory in Quang Tri Province. After rescuing the first man, Norris dressed as a fisherman and evacuated the second pilot – who he covered with bamboo and vegetation to evade enemy patrols. (Nick Del Calzo / Congressional Medal of Honor Foundation) Back to slideshow navigation
  16. Jack Jacobs, 1945 -

    Serving in Vietnam, Jacobs ordered a withdrawal from an exposed position and established a defensive perimeter after his battalion came under fire. Despite head wounds which impaired his vision, he returned under intense fire to evacuate a seriously wounded advisor. He then returned to evacuate his wounded company commander. Jacobs made repeated trips across the fire-swept rice paddies to evacuate the injured. (Nick Del Calzo / Congressional Medal of Honor Foundation) Back to slideshow navigation
  17. Clarence Sasser, 1947 -

    Serving as a medical aidman during a reconnaissance mission, Spc. Sasser ran across an open rice paddy through a hail of fire to assist the wounded in Vietnam. Refusing medical attention, he gave treatment and searched for wounded men. When injuries immobilized him, he dragged himself to tend to an ailing soldier. From a position of relative safety, he cared for a group of men for five hours until they were evacuated. (Nick Del Calzo / Congressional Medal of Honor Foundation) Back to slideshow navigation
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  1. Nick Del Calzo / Congressional Medal of Honor Foundation
    Above: Slideshow (17) Medal of Honor recipients - Pre-9/11
  2. Image: William Swenson
    Alex Brandon / AP
    Slideshow (14) Medal of Honor recipients - Post-9/11

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