Next in our Medal of Honor series, which honors our Medal of Honor recipients, is a biography about Sgt. 1st Class Leroy Petry.
Petry was awarded the Medal of Honor on July 12, 2011 for his courageous actions in Afghanistan on May 26, 2008. He is the second living recipient to have been awarded the medal since the Vietnam War.
Petry was born on July 29, 1979 in Santa Fe, N.M. Growing up, Petry was an active child. He was eager to volunteer anytime one of his relatives needed a task accomplished. He kept busy by playing football and basketball, and he also enjoyed fixing cars and cooking.
“Everybody liked Leroy. He was always smiling, laughing, bonding with people,” his father Larry Petry told the Las Cruces Sun-News. “I don’t think he had one enemy until he got to Afghanistan.”
Initially, Petry was not a very good student. He failed his freshmen year at Santa Fe High School and had to repeat it. His parents then transferred him to St. Catherine Indian School for his sophomore year, and there he turned his academics around.
“With a record of fights, suspensions, and ditching school, Petry realized that he was on a path that led nowhere. He tried harder in school and appreciated how it felt to make his parents proud,” wrote a teacher who nominated him for an area award for high school seniors who were committed to improving themselves and the community.
He graduated from St. Catherine Indian School in 1998 and then attended New Mexico Highlands University. He enlisted in the Army in September 1999.
One of Petry’s cousins was in the Army Rangers, so he decided he wanted to be a Ranger as well.
“My cousin was actually serving in the 2nd Ranger Battalion when I was finishing up high school, debating on when or what I was going to do,” Petry told the Army News Service. “He explained a lot to me what the regiment did, and that was a sell for me.”
Petry attended One Station Unit Training — a seamless succession of Basic Training and Advanced Individual Training (AIT) — the Basic Airborne Course, and the Ranger Assessment and Selection Program all at Fort Benning, Ga. Afterwards he was assigned to 2nd Battalion, 75th Ranger Regiment. He has served as a grenadier, squad automatic rifleman, fire team leader, squad leader, operations sergeant and a weapons squad leader.
Petry has deployed eight times in support of overseas contingency operations with two tours to Iraq and six tours to Afghanistan.
Medal of Honor Action
On May 26, 2008, then Staff Sgt. Petry was a Weapons Squad Leader with 2nd Platoon, D Company, 2nd Battalion, 75th Ranger Regiment. His platoon’s mission was to capture a high-value target who was believed to be located in Paktya Province, Afghanistan. They conducted a high-risk daylight helicopter assault, landing on two helicopter landing zones, one to the north and the other south of the primary target building.
Petry was tasked to serve as the senior non-commissioned officer during the operation once a platoon headquarters was established and secured in the target building. One of the other assault squads needed help clearing their assigned building, so Petry moved to that squad to provide assistance.
As he and four other soldiers — Pvt. 1st Class Lucas Robinson, Sgt. Daniel Higgins, Staff Sgt. James Roberts, and Spc. Christopher Gathercole — crossed the outer courtyard of the assigned building they were fired upon by enemy fighters. Petry and Robinson were both wounded by the initial gun fire — Petry in both legs with one round.
While under fire Petry led Robinson to a nearby chicken coop for cover. He then assessed the situation and reported that they were under fire and that there were two Rangers injured. Right when Sgt. Higgens came to their aid the insurgents threw a grenade that injured Higgens and Robinson upon explosion.
The enemy was moving closer under systematic weapon’s fire and threw a second grenade that landed just a few feet away from the Rangers. Without hesitation, Petry picked up the grenade to throw it away from his comrades. As he was throwing it, the grenade exploded and catastrophically amputated his hand. Petry quickly put a tourniquet on his arm and then radioed in his team’s situation. Higgens and Roberts continued to fight until the enemy was effectively suppressed.
Because of his heroic actions Petry, risking his life and losing a hand in the process, saved the lives of his Ranger brothers.
Petry reenlisted in 2010 to finish his career with the Army. He currently serves as a liaison officer for the United States Special Operations Command Care Coalition-Northwest Region, and provides oversight to wounded warriors, ill and injured service members and their families.
Photos Courtesy U.S. Army