Prank-loving sergeant takes Medal of Honor well in hand

Javier Rivera, William Parker, Leroy Petry
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.Ralph Lauer / AP
/ Source: The Associated Press

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.

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.

"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.