Thursday, July 14, 2011

Leroy's good fortune

During the Hall of Heroes ceremony Wednesday at the Pentagon, Chief of Staff of the Army Martin Dempsey — who was host to a dinner for Leroy and his family Monday night at his house — told the story of how Leroy met his wife, Ashley.

About 10 years ago, Leroy and our cousin Steven (also a Ranger) were stationed at Fort Lewis, Wash. Leroy had purchased some scratcher lottery tickets that afternoon and one of them seemed to indicate he won $300,000. Leroy was ecstatic. He called his family back home in Santa Fe, he called his Ranger buddies, he even called his commanding officer to let him know of his good fortune. Then, Leroy and Steve got dressed to the nines and went out on the town to celebrate. They bought drinks for friends and their smiles filled every room. That night, Leroy was introduced to a striking blonde named Ashley.

Later in the evening, when Steve and Leroy showed the "winning" lottery ticket to Steve's girlfriend, she informed them that they had misread the rules of the game and this ticket was about as valuable as the paper it was printed on. Whoops. Leroy's commanding officer and Ranger buddies got many good laughs from that one the next day. But as fate (or fortune) would have it, Leroy did hit the lottery that night. The blonde, Ashley, would soon become his wife and mother to son Landon. As Dempsey said during the Pentagon ceremony, that bond between husband and wife is much, much more valuable than any lottery ticket.

I had heard this story many years ago, but until this week, I had never met Ashley or her children Brittany, Austin and Reagan, whom Leroy would raise as his own after the marriage. As I suspected, they are all wonderful people.

Wednesday night, during a banquet for Leroy, the Army showed a video in tribute to SFC Leroy A. Petry. The video included details of the mission in Patkya, Afghanistan on May 26, 2008, as told by Leroy and his fellow Rangers. The video also included emotional interviews with Leroy's mom and dad about the day they found out their son had been wounded in battle. It was a well-done video and pulled at the heartstrings of everyone in attendance.

When the video concluded, everyone stood and clapped and directed their attention to Leroy's table. His son, Austin, 17, was in tears. Lots of tears. He hugged his dad Leroy. Then Ashley joined in. Then Reagan, 13, and son Landon, 7. (Daughter Brittany was in Europe and could not be here this week). There wasn't a dry eye in the room.

The Medal of Honor is a great, great award, and Leroy is a deserving soldier. But even more than the Medal of Honor, I saw something Wednesday night that I take even more pride in. He has a wife and four beautiful children who love him. That's what I'll remember most from this week.

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