WASHINGTON -- Few of us ever will meet a Medal of Honor recipient. Fewer still ever will have the opportunity to be of assistance to one. In part, that's because "The Medal" -- our nation's highest military decoration, awarded for "conspicuous gallantry and intrepidity at the risk of life above and beyond the call of duty" -- is worn by just 85 living Americans.
Since we were attacked on 9/11, the Medal of Honor has been awarded only nine times to the more than 2 million Americans who have served in Afghanistan and Iraq. Army Sgt. 1st Class Paul Smith, Marine Cpl. Jason Dunham, Navy SEALs Lt. Michael Murphy and Petty Officer 2nd Class Michael Monsoor, Army Spc. Ross McGinnis, Army Sgt. 1st Class Jared Monti and Army Staff Sgt. Robert Miller all received the recognition posthumously.
Until this week, U.S. Army Staff Sgt. Salvatore Giunta was the only living MOH recipient of the nearly decade-long global war on terror. On July 12, in the East Room of the White House, President Barack Obama presented the Medal of Honor to U.S. Army Ranger Sgt. 1st Class Leroy Petry for his extraordinary heroism during a bloody engagement May 26, 2008, in Afghanistan's Paktia province.
Excerpts from the citation for then-Staff Sgt. Petry describe how he "and another Ranger were engaged and wounded by automatic weapons fire from enemy fighters" and how "under enemy fire, and wounded in both legs, Staff Sergeant Petry led the other Ranger to cover," where they were joined by a third Ranger. An enemy grenade wounded his fellow soldiers, and a second grenade landed in their midst. "Instantly realizing the danger, Staff Sergeant Petry, unhesitatingly and with complete disregard for his safety, deliberately and selflessly moved forward, picked up the grenade, and in an effort to clear the immediate threat, threw the grenade away from his fellow Rangers." As he released the grenade, it detonated, "amputating his right hand at the wrist and further injuring him with multiple shrapnel wounds."
But that's only part of the remarkable story of a modest American hero and his exceptional family. He is also the recipient of two Bronze Stars and a Purple Heart from two combat tours in Iraq and six deployments to Afghanistan. He, his wife and their four children know all too well the challenges military families face as they cope with multiple deployments and life-changing injuries. They also know that the American people care.
Oliver North is a nationally syndicated columnist, the host of War Stories on the Fox News Channel, the author of the new novel Heroes Proved and the co-founder of Freedom Alliance, an organization that provides college scholarships to the children of U.S. military personnel killed or permanently disabled in the line of duty. Join Oliver North in Israel by going to www.olivernorthisrael.com.