WASHINGTON (Reuters) - President Barack Obama awarded the Medal of Honor on Tuesday afternoon to Army Ranger Sergeant 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 receive the medal -- given for "conspicuous gallantry and intrepidity at the risk of his life above and beyond the call of duty."
Seven of the Iraq and Afghanistan medals were granted posthumously. Last year Afghanistan veteran Army Staff Sergeant Salvatore Giunta became the first living recipient of the medal for a post-Vietnam era conflict.
"Today we honor a singular act of gallantry," Obama said at the White House ceremony for Petry on Tuesday.
"As we near the tenth anniversary of the attacks that thrust our nation into war, this is also an occasion to pay tribute to a soldier and a generation that has borne the burden of our security during a hard decade of sacrifice," the president said.
Petry, the newest Medal of Honor recipient, lost his hand while throwing away a live enemy grenade that endangered two fellow Rangers while he was serving in Paktya, Afghanistan on May 26, 2008.
"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 in May.
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 leading a high-risk raid in broad daylight, according to the account given by the president.
When one of the assault teams needed support, Petry dived in. While clearing the courtyard, he and another Ranger started taking fire. Petry was wounded in both legs by an insurgent's round.
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.
"Every human impulse would tell someone to turn away," Obama observed. "Every soldier is trained to seek cover. That's what Sergeant Leroy Petry could have done."
Instead, an already injured Petry disregarded his personal safety to pick up and 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.
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.
"This is the stuff of which heroes are made," Obama said of Petry's actions. "This is the strength, the devotion that makes our troops the pride of every American."
(Reporting by Wendell Marsh; Edited by Jerry Norton)