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.
Because of the severity of Petry's wounds, he had to endure multiple surgeries and more than two years of recuperation at Brooke Army Medical Center in San Antonio. While he was recovering there, the Petry family received support and encouragement from Freedom Alliance, an organization devoted to those who serve our nation in uniform. On two occasions while he was at BAMC, Freedom Alliance provided financial assistance to help his family with travel expenses that were not covered by the government.
That support wasn't provided just because Petry is a Medal of Honor recipient. When the calls come into the Freedom Alliance Heroes Support Center from a military hospital, all that matters is that a wounded service member's family needs help. The Petrys are just one example of the hundreds of wounded military personnel and their families whom Freedom Alliance has provided with more than $1 million in financial grants in the past four years.
That's not all Freedom Alliance does for those serving our country. Thus far this year, the organization has sent thousands of Gifts from Home care packages to troops deployed overseas. Freedom Alliance also hosts and sponsors hundreds of dinners, picnics and "family days" every year to honor the troops and their families. Thanks to Sean Hannity and Fox News, the Freedom Alliance Scholarship Fund has provided more than $4 million in college scholarships to the children of service members who have been killed or permanently disabled in combat or other operational missions. And it doesn't end there.
Generous Americans who care about the sacrifices being made on faraway battlefields and by military families here at home have made it possible for the Freedom Alliance Heroes Support Center to provide a broad array of programs for the troops, their spouses and their children. Taking hurting heroes to Major League Baseball parks, National Football League games, fishing trips, hunting/sporting weekends and "dream vacations" all across America isn't intended to make headlines. But one wounded Marine put it this way during a recent outing: "It's the best time I've had since I got hit in Afghanistan."
This week, as we watched the White House ceremony in which Sgt. 1st Class Leroy Petry was being awarded the Medal of Honor, I turned to Tom Kilgannon, president of Freedom Alliance, to congratulate him on the quiet help the organization provided during the heroic Ranger's recovery. Kilgannon shrugged and responded, "It's what we do."
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.