President Barack Obama bestowed a Medal of Honor on Tuesday afternoon to Army Ranger Sgt. 1st Class Leroy Petry, the second living soldier to receive the military's highest decoration for actions in Afghanistan.
Petry, originally from New Mexico, is among nine servicemen from the Iraq and Afghanistan conflicts to win the award — given for "conspicuous gallantry and intrepidity at the risk of his life above and beyond the call of duty."
Obama noted at the ceremony's start that Petry is only the second living recipient of the medal from the Afghan and Iraq wars.
"Leroy Petry showed that true heroes still exist and they're closer than you think," Obama said.
Petry lost his hand while throwing away an enemy grenade that endangered two fellow Rangers while he was serving in Paktya, Afghanistan, on May 26, 2008.
"With that selfless act Leroy saved his two Ranger brothers..." Obama said, noting the soldiers were at the ceremony. "This valor came with a price. The force of the blast took Leroy's right hand. Shrapnel riddled his body. Said one of his teammates, I've never seen someone hurt so badly...."
"Despite his grievous wounds he remained calm. He actually put on his own tourniquet, and he continued to lead, directing his team, giving orders, even telling medics how to treat his wounds....
"When the fight was won, one of his teammates came up to shake his hand that was left. It was the first time he shook hand of true hero that Ranger said."
Last year Afghanistan veteran Army Staff Sgt. Salvatore Giunta became the first living recipient of the medal for a post-Vietnam era conflict. Seven of the medals have been granted posthumously.
"It's very humbling to know that the guys thought that much of me and my actions that day, to nominate me for that," he told the Army News Service after the award was announced.
As a Ranger, 31-year-old Petry is among the Army's most-proven soldiers trained for special operations. He has served two tours of duty in Iraq and six in Afghanistan.
On the day he lost his hand, Petry was expected to experience minimal fire, as he was supposed to stay with platoon headquarters until a target building was secured, according to the account from the Army News Service.
But when one of the assault teams needed support, Petry dived in. He and another Ranger entered an enclosed courtyard and started taking fire. Petry was wounded in both legs by an insurgent's round. He led the other Ranger behind a chicken coop.
When another soldier arrived to help, a grenade explosion wounded the two other soldiers. Another grenade followed the first, landing just a few feet away. Already injured, Petry disregarded his personal safety to throw away the grenade, which detonated while still in his hand.
Petry then applied a tourniquet to his own arm, while other soldiers returned fire and killed the enemy.
All the while, he continued to call out orders so that his unit could fulfill its mission, according to soldiers who served with him.
"This is the stuff of which heroes are made," the president said.
Petry now uses a robotic hand. After his injuries, Petry reenlisted and now works as a liaison officer for the United States Special Operations Command Care Coalition-Northwest Region in Washington state, where he works with wounded warriors and their families.
Petry has also been awarded two Bronze Star Medals, a Purple Heart, and many other honors.