Profiles Of Valor: Welcome To Town, SSG Leroy Petry

  • Tuesday, September 12, 2023

“I reached over, leaned over to the right, grabbed [the grenade], and I threw it as hard as I could.”

It is always a good day to celebrate a great American Patriot! Monday belonged to the latest Medal of Honor recipient, Chattanooga's own Larry Taylor. 

Today, we welcome to town, SSG Leroy Petry to Chattanooga, who will be the keynote speaker for the National Medal of Honor Heritage Center's Celebration of Valor on Wednesday.

Leroy is a Santa Fe, New Mexico, native of Mexican descent. He is the third of five sons born to Larry and Lorella Petry. As a teenager, he played football and basketball, excelled at auto maintenance, and his favorite hobby was cooking. After graduating high school, he worked for a year at a vehicle repair facility with his father and grandfather.

Inspired by a cousin who was an Army Ranger, Leroy enlisted in September 1999 and completed Infantry One Station Unit Training, Airborne training, and the Ranger Indoctrination Program at Fort Benning, Georgia. After getting his Ranger tab, Leroy was assigned to Delta Company, 2nd Battalion of the 75th Ranger Regiment. He served a total of eight deployments, two with Operation Iraqi Freedom and six with Operation Enduring Freedom in Afghanistan.

He held a succession of combat roles as a grenadier, squad automatic rifleman, fireteam leader, squad leader, operations sergeant, and weapons squad leader.

On May 26, 2008, while on a daylight mission to capture a high-value target from the Taliban in Paktia Province, Afghanistan, he and his team of seven Rangers encountered more than 40 Taliban. Immediately after exiting the helicopter at their drop point, they encountered fierce enemy fire.

Engaging three of the Taliban fighters in a courtyard, Petry and PFC Lucas Robinson were both wounded. Under heavy enemy fire, Petry led Robinson to safety with the assistance of Sgt. Daniel Higgins and two other Rangers. He then threw a thermobaric grenade at the enemy position to provide cover. The Taliban returned several grenades, the first wounding two other Rangers. When a Taliban fighter threw a second grenade, which landed feet from Higgins and Robinson, Petry retrieved it and attempted to throw the grenade back in the direction of the Taliban.

He recalls that his immediate reaction was to “get it out of here, get it away from the guys and myself.” He recounts: “I reached over, leaned over to the right, grabbed [the grenade], and I threw it as hard as I could … and as soon as I opened my hand to let it go, it just exploded instantly. And [my] hand was completely severed off.” He also suffered many shrapnel wounds, but in the process he saved his two fellow Rangers from serous injury or death.

His Medal of Honor citation notes:

For conspicuous gallantry and intrepidity at the risk of his life above and beyond the call of duty: Staff Sergeant Leroy A. Petry distinguished himself by acts of gallantry and intrepidity at the risk of his life above and beyond the call of duty in action with an armed enemy in the vicinity of Paktya Province, Afghanistan, on May 26, 2008. As a Weapons Squad Leader with D Company, 2nd Battalion, 75th Ranger Regiment, Staff Sergeant Petry moved to clear the courtyard of a house that potentially contained high-value combatants. While crossing the courtyard, Staff Sergeant Petry and another Ranger were engaged and wounded by automatic weapons fire from enemy fighters. Still under enemy fire, and wounded in both legs, Staff Sergeant Petry led the other Ranger to cover. He then reported the situation and engaged the enemy with a hand grenade, providing suppression as another Ranger moved to his position. The enemy quickly responded by maneuvering closer and throwing grenades. The first grenade explosion knocked his two fellow Rangers to the ground and wounded both with shrapnel. A second grenade then landed only a few feet away from them. 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 was releasing the grenade it detonated, amputating his right hand at the wrist and further injuring him with multiple shrapnel wounds. Although picking up and throwing the live grenade grievously wounded Staff Sergeant Petry, his gallant act undeniably saved his fellow Rangers from being severely wounded or killed. Despite the severity of his wounds, Staff Sergeant Petry continued to maintain the presence of mind to place a tourniquet on his right wrist before communicating the situation by radio in order to coordinate support for himself and his fellow wounded Rangers. Staff Sergeant Petry's extraordinary heroism and devotion to duty are in keeping with the highest traditions of military service, and reflect great credit upon himself, 75th Ranger Regiment, and the United States Army.

Amazingly, after recovering from his amputation and injuries, then-SFC Petry remained on active duty, reenlisting in 2010. He was medically retired four years later and in 2017 was inducted into the Ranger Hall of Fame at Fort Benning.

Leroy is president of the Congressional Medal of Honor Society board -- if you want to be a member of the society, the only qualification is that you have been awarded a Medal of Honor, which is to say, it is a very exclusive group! He is very involved with the Society’s character education initiative, and, as part of that curriculum, recorded his advice to young people: “Look to your left and to your right.” Likewise, he is an advocate of our National Medal of Honor Heritage Center's outstanding education initiatives. 

(Chattanooga is the Birthplace of the Medal of Honor. Please support the National Medal of Honor Heritage Center Sustaining Fund with a designated gift through Patriot Foundation Trust, or make a check payable to Liberty Fund (noting MoH Sustaining Fund on the memo line), and mail it to Patriot Foundation Trust, PO Box 407, Chattanooga, TN 37401-0407.)

Mark Caldwell

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