Wednesday, July 20, 2011

Leroy returns home

This article was published by the Associated Press on July 19

JOINT BASE LEWIS-McCHORD, Wash. — Sgt. 1st Class Leroy Petry has returned home to Washington state, a week after President Barack Obama presented him with the nation’s highest military award, the Medal of Honor.

Petry told reporters at Joint Base Lewis-McChord south of Seattle on Tuesday that he and his family received a warm welcome in their neighborhood in Steilacoom when they arrived Monday night. Children made banners and cheered for them.

Petry says he’s eager to get back to his day job working with injured Special Forces members and their families.

Sgt. 1st Class Leroy Arthur Petry walks past a display about his Medal of Honor award as he heads to a news conference Tuesday at Joint Base Lewis McChord, Wash. (AP Photo/Elaine Thompson)

Monday, July 18, 2011

Songs for our troops

Today, I had a conversation with Miguel Estrada, a Panamanian immigrant. He came to the United States 30 years ago with nothing more than a thumb to hitch a ride. He's now a retiree living in Minneapolis.

An amateur musician, Miguel said he was inspired to write songs about his adopted homeland as a show of gratitude to the American people, who opened their hearts and arms to him. He said he would like to share his music with "our brave men and women that go overseas to fight for our freedom."

I reached out to Miguel after reading his response to a blog post about my cousin, Sgt. Leroy A. Petry. When I talked to him on the phone, he talked about how much America means to him and he became emotional when talking about my cousin's service. I was moved to share his music on this blog.

Miguel sent me two of his songs. The first, "We Are America" — written days after 9/11 — was recorded by professional musicians. Miguel is the vocalist on the second selection, "My Hero," which he wrote in tribute to Pat Tillman, an Army Ranger and former professional football player who died while fighting in Afghanistan.

Thank you, Miguel, for your recognition of our troops.

Sunday, July 17, 2011

NBC links

Leroy sat down with NBC's "Nightly News with Brian Williams" for an interview that ran Tuesday night, after the ceremony at the White House. Although Leroy's appearance on "The Daily Show" has been the most entertaining, the Williams interview is so far the most meaningful and informative.

Here's some other links from NBC News:

Thank you, NBC.  Great reporting.

At the ballgame

This Associated Press story moved on the wires July 16

NEW YORK — The New York Mets saluted Sgt. 1st Class Leroy Petry, who was recently awarded a Medal of Honor by President Barack Obama.

Petry received the nation’s highest military honor Tuesday in a ceremony at the White House for his brave actions in Afghanistan to protect comrades in the 2008 firefight that cost him his right hand. He was at Citi Field with his family Saturday to see New York play the Philadelphia Phillies, invited by the Mets.

Dressed in full uniform, Petry had a chance to meet Mets players in the clubhouse after batting practice. He said he was excited to attend the game with his family, and he thought it was his son’s first trip to a professional ballgame.

Sitting in the front row right next to the Phillies’ on-deck circle, Petry was introduced to the crowd after the third inning and received a standing ovation as he waved his left hand.

Mets shortstop Jose Reyes, currently on the disabled list, walked over and presented Petry with a boxed American flag that had flown over Citi Field. Reyes also shook hands with Petry and his family.

“The Congressional Medal of Honor is the best medal you can get,” said Mets pitcher Jonathon Niese, who applauded on the mound before throwing his fourth-inning warmups. “They go out there and do a heck of a lot more than we can imagine.”

Medal of Honor recipient Army Ranger Sgt. 1st Class Leroy Petry looks up from his seat as the New York Mets honor him after the third inning of a baseball between the Mets and the Philadelphia Phillies, July 16, at Citi Field in New York. (AP Photo/Paul J. Bereswill)

Friday, July 15, 2011

Back home (for some of us)

The Petry family is back home in New Mexico after an enlighting and exhausting trip to Washington, D.C. A big thanks goes out to the U.S. Army and my cousin's fellow Rangers for doing what they do to preserve our freedoms. My cousin may have received the Medal of Honor, but I met so many people this weekend that are also hereos. Thank you.

My cousin Leroy and his family left for New York on Thursday morning. My cousin did the "The Daily Show" on Thursday night. Also, check out his extended interview with Jon Stewart. It's quite entertaining. Friday morning, my cousin and his wife appeared on the "Today" show and the whole family (Leroy, Ashley, Austin, Reagan and Landon) got a chance to talk on "Fox & Friends."

Friday night, my cousin is scheduled to throw out the first pitch at the New York Mets game. A family member told me that his son Austin would be the one actually throwing the pitch. I'll try to find a picture and post later. I'm not sure how many more media and Army obligations my cousin has lined up, but I hope he soon gets to go back home to Washington (state) and have a week to himself when he can hit the links with friends, play "Call of Duty" with Landon and just recharge the batteries in his prostheses and his life.

Photo of the Day

This photo of President Obama hugging my grandma, Bertha Petry, was the Photo of the Day on the White House website on Wednesday. Pictured behind the president, to the left, are my cousin Leroy Petry and his dad, Larry Petry. My grandma is 80 years old and I'm so proud of her for having the strength and courage to get on that plane to Washington, D.C. and attend every event she could in support of my cousin. Love you Grandma!

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.

Wednesday, July 13, 2011


Today, my cousin Leroy was inducted into the Hall of Heroes at the Pentagon. Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta, Secretary of the Army John McHugh, Chief of Staff of the Army Martin E. Dempsey and my cousin spoke. It was a very moving ceremony and I felt honored to be in attendance.

From left, Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta, Secretary of the Army John McHugh, Sgt. 1st Class Leroy A. Petry, his wife Ashley Petry, Vice Chief of Staff of the Army Peter Chiarelli and Sgt. Major of the Army Raymond Chandler.

Inside the White House

I did not get to attend Leroy's ceremony at the White House, but plenty of my family members did. Here's some of the highlights from their meet-and-greet with the president and vice president.

• My family was standing in a line when vice president Joe Biden entered. He went down the line of family members to shake hands and introduce himself. My 80-year-old grandma shook his hand, but didn't realize who he was. She thought he was my uncle Larry's friend. Right after the handshake, it clicked for my grandma, and she reached for the vice president's hand before he could move on to the next family member. "Oh, I know who you are, now," she said. He laughed and gave my grandma a hug. After the ceremony, he signed his seat placard and gave it to my grandma so that she could always remember him.
• When my grandma met President Obama, she started the conversation by exclaiming, "I already know who you are!" The president laughed and gave my grandma a big hug.
• When my cousin Lloyd Petry (Leroy's brother) met Biden, he said. "Mr. vice president, I've been quoting you since I found out my brother won this award." Biden replied, "Oh, yeah, what have you been saying?" "It's a big deal," Lloyd said. He didn't use a certain word inside the White House, but it got the message across. Everyone got a laugh from that one.
• After meeting my family, Biden asked if anyone had any questions for him. Lloyd asked Biden what the Medal of Honor meant to him. His answer impressed my family. Later, my uncle Larry (Leroy's dad) said, "He didn't have much time to think of a response, but what he said was right on. He gets it."

Great photo

Photo credit: Charles Dharapak/Associated Press

Here's a link to a photo gallery from the Washington Post. Good stuff.

Tuesday, July 12, 2011

Leroy, our hero

(This column will be published in the Las Cruces Sun-News and Santa Fe New Mexican on July 13)

WASHINGTON — I had a chat Monday night with a Ranger who served on missions with my cousin, Sgt. 1st Class Leroy A. Petry, during some of the first deployments to Afghanistan. The Ranger remembered one mission in particular when they took on enemy fire and bullets went zipping by Leroy’s head. Leroy calmly said to the Ranger in front of him, “I think they’re shooting at us.” “No,” the Ranger replied “they’re shooting at you.” Offered this new perspective, Leroy laughed. 

“That’s just the kind of guy he is — never nervous,” the Ranger said after telling me that story at our hotel in Arlington, Va. The Ranger, along with many other members of the 75th Ranger Regiment at Joint Base Lewis-McChord, Wash., made the trip to Washington, D.C., to be in attendance Tuesday when President Obama awarded Leroy the Medal of Honor.

Leroy’s demeanor would come into play May 26, 2008 in Paktya Afghanistan — during his seventh tour of duty to Iraq and Afghanistan — when he would lead troops in a daring daylight raid to capture a high-value target. Leroy would be shot through both legs and wounded by a grenade — but still alive along with two other Rangers taking cover behind a chicken coop — when another grenade landed near the group. Leroy picked it up and threw it away. The grenade blast would amputate his right hand, but his bravery likely saved the lives of Sgt. Daniel Higgins and Pvt. 1st Class Lucas Robinson. Another Ranger, Spc. Christopher Gathercole, would be shot and killed while heading to the chicken coop to offer his assistance after the second grenade detonated.

I got to have a beer with Dan and Luke on Monday night, and I have my cousin to thank for that. President Obama thanked Leroy for his “valor and sacrifice” Tuesday during the Medal of Honor ceremony at the White House. The president used the phrases “extraordinary American soldier” and “true American hero” to describe Leroy. Obama also said, “this could not have happened to a nicer guy.” That’s the comment I’ll remember.

Leroy’s immediate family — his wife, his kids, his mom and dad, his grandparents and his brothers — were at the White House. Other members of the extended family, including me, gathered to watch the ceremony on the large TV in our hotel lobby. Emotions ran high and I’m not too proud to admit I had tears in my eyes as our commander-in-chief placed the Medal of Honor around my cousin’s neck.

Leroy became the second living Medal of Honor recipient from the conflicts in Iraq and Afghanistan. Medal or not, the family is proud that Leroy came back from the war alive and has resumed his duties as a loving father and husband. 

Although he’s now a Medal of Honor recipient and joins an elite fraternity of American heroes, Leroy will remain humble. If it were up to him, he would slice up the medal and offer a piece to each of his fellow Rangers. However, Leroy also knows the weight of the medal is not measured in pounds, but in expectations, and will live his life accordingly. He has the next few months planned out for him, and then it’s back to the Army and likely returning to his job helping soldiers who have lost limbs readapt to society. 

If you ever have the opportunity to meet Leroy, treat him as a Ranger first, a Medal of Honor recipient second. He’d appreciate that.

U.S. Army Sgt. First Class Leroy Arthur Petry wears the Medal of Honor, awarded to him by President Barack Obama, for his valor in Afghanistan, Tuesday during a ceremony in the East Room of the White House in Washington. (AP Photo/Charles Dharapak)

Two hereos

Leroy Petry jokes around with Medal of Honor recipient Bruce P. Crandall Monday night.  Crandall  is a retired Army pilot who received the award in 2007 for his actions in Vietnam. He is portrayed by actor Greg Kinnear in the movie "We Were Soldiers."

Ranger view

Pvt. 1st Class Lucas Robinson, right, and Sgt. Daniel Higgins — the two men Leroy risked his life to save in Afghanistan. 

Leroy A. Petry poses with members of his Ranger battalion. Around 30 of Leroy's fellow soldiers made the trip to Washington, D.C., to support him.

Monday, July 11, 2011

Tears in his beer

Sunday night most certainly will be one of the highlights of this trip. My cousin Leroy, his dad and brothers, another cousin, me, Leroy's platoon leader and some members of the armed services whom Leroy had met earlier in the day joined for a beer (or two or three) in the hotel lounge. It was a group of guy's guys and we acted as such — making inappropriate jokes, telling crude and memorable stories and finding any and every excuse to make fun of one another. The testosterone level was on high.

Leroy seemed to enjoy hanging out with the guys and escaping for a few hours the pressures that go along with being a Medal of Honor recipient. But shortly after last call, Leroy had to retreat to his room to shine his shoes and fine-tune a speech that began with the phrase, "Thank you, Mr. President." Soon, I found myself in a conversation with my cousin Lloyd (Leroy's older brother and a former Army land surveyor) and a rather entertaining Marine, who was loud, abrasive, quick with a joke and by this time, a little tipsy.

The Marine, who had met Leroy only a few hours prior, spoke to Lloyd and me about my cousin's humbleness and high character. And he said he tried to treat Leroy like a fellow solider; not as an amputee, not as a Medal of Honor recipient. Lloyd and I both reassured him that Leroy appreciates that. Anybody who would put Leroy on a pedestal above his fellow Rangers is someone I'm sure my cousin would not want in his life.

Then, the Marine's eyes teared up as he told us how honored he was to have a beer with Leroy. He told us that Leroy's actions on the battlefield will give him strength and inspiration the next time he is in the trenches. By this time, the Marine was trying hard to hold back the tears, but wasn't succeeding. He gave each us a big hug before calling it a night. Lloyd and I have each heard our fair share of poignant compliments about Leroy. But this one meant a little bit more. It made me realize a bit more the gravity the medal carries. It can bring a grown man to tears.

Sunday, July 10, 2011

9/11 reminder

This view from my cousin Leroy's hotel room offers an awesome view of Washington, D.C. The tall spires are an Air Force memorial, which is directly in front of the Pentagon. The damage evident on the overhang (top of photo) was from 9/11, when the plane flew directly over the hotel, shaking it violently, before it slammed into the Pentagon.

Honor flight

What's it like to be the cousin of a Medal of Honor recipient on the way to his nationally televised ceremony? You get a few special perks at the airport, for one thing. Thanks to Southwest Airlines for recognizing my cousin by telling his tale over the speaker system as we landed in Baltimore. And thanks to our fellow passegers for offering their congratulations and support as the pilot asked that members of Leroy A. Petry's family be allowed to exit the plane first.

In Albuquerque, Southwest Airlines presented our family with two banners offering their well wishes to Leroy A. Petry. The banners were signed by members of the company and by fellow passengers. Below, Leroy's dad, Larry, poses with one of the banners.

Saturday, July 9, 2011

Leroy links

The Army has provided an extensive list of stories, videos and links related to Leroy's Medal of Honor nomination:

The Santa Fe New Mexican has some nice content as well:

Know of any more helpful websites? Email me or post below. Thanks.

Thursday, July 7, 2011

Benefit dance

On Friday, July 1, my family hosted a benefit dance at one of the American Legion posts in Santa Fe. The event was to raise money to send family members to Washington, D.C., to attend Leroy's ceremony. We had a full house and fun was had by all. Thanks to the American Legion, Budweiser and Albertsons for their generous donations.

I had a wonderful time at the event hanging out with friends and family, chowing down on some delicious Frito pie and dancing into all hours of the night. The best moment of the night was hearing my aunt and uncle (Leroy's parents) extend their thanks to all in attendance. It was a genuine moment, and it was great to see the pride the community took in Leroy's honor. Leroy could not make it to the event, but I'm sure he would be honored and humbled. During his speech, my uncle Larry (Leroy's dad) said if it was up to his son, Leroy would slice up his Medal of Honor and give a piece to each of his fellow Rangers so that each one's communities offer the same support Leroy has received from Santa Fe. Well said.

The fundraiser was a success and at least 13 members of the Petry family will get to go to Washington for the ceremony. Also, we raised money for members of the Tapia family (Leroy's mom) to attend as well. Read more about my family's fundraising efforts here (from the Santa Fe New Mexican):

We leave for D.C. Sunday morning and I'll send my next blog post from our nation's capital.

Kathy Peerman (my mom) and Lucas Peerman (me)  attend the Petry-Tapia Benefit Dance July 1 in Santa Fe. All family members plan to wear our "Sgt. Leroy A. Petry. Our Hero" T-shirts Sunday for the trip to Washington D.C.

Thanks from the community

The column I wrote about my cousin Leroy (read it in the next blog post), published June 4 in the Las Cruces Sun-News (and in other papers in the Texas New Mexico Newspapers Partnership in the days following), elicited a generous amount of feedback. More friends, family and strangers talked to me about that article than anything else I've written in 13 years as a journalist. Here are some highlights of the emails I received in response to the article:

"Thanks millions over for a Super story on a Extra Super Hero for all the world to admire. I saw him on the evening news earlier in the week. When you talk with him express our heartfelt thanks to him from all of Las Cruces and again many, many thanks for your story."
Eugene Hayth
SFC Retired US Army

• "I was talking to my friend a few days ago (Mr. Hershey Miyamura) and Mr. Miyamura was telling me about another New Mexican that will be awarded the Medal of Honor. As you know Mr. Miyamura is also a Medal of Honor receipient and is looking forward to meeting with your cousin SFC Petry. … I hope that you can contact SFC Petry and to tell him that the people in New Mexico are so proud of him and thank him for his services."
Kenneth P. Riege
Military veteran
Hotel owner in Gallup

• "I just read your post in the Ruidoso News. God Bless your cousin and those like him. All the wounded soldiers coming back deserve our help to get on with their lives. I am attaching a link to a video of a charity event we hold near Houston each year to help severely wounded soldiers and Marines.  This is to show you that others care for wounded vets and are doing something about it. The charity is Homes For Our Troops out of Boston.  Turn up the sound on your computer and enjoy:
Clark Clement

While having a nutrition shake this morning (Thursday, July 7), I happened to sit next to a Las Cruces police officer and former Marine. I told him about my upcoming trip to Washington and the award my cousin was to receive. He said I better tell my cousin what a a hero he is to all former servicemen and women. And you bet I will. So many people who have never met Leroy want me to pass along a hug, a handshake, a heartfelt thanks to my cousin. One of the first things I'll do after I see my cousin in Washington will be to pass along all the well wishes from his New Mexican brethren.

If you would like to send along a note to Leroy, please email me at lpeerman@lcsun-news and I'll make sure to pass along the note.

Monday, July 4, 2011

A hero to our family

This story was published in the Las Cruces Sun-News on June 4, 2011

By Lucas Peerman

LAS CRUCES — It’s Memorial Day 2008 and I’m at work. I whine to a coworker about having to be in the office. Can’t I go outside and go to a BBQ, or go to the wine fest and listen to some tunes, or sit on my couch, drink a beer and watch the NBA playoffs? This is Memorial Day and I deserve this day off, right?

Then, I get a phone call from my mom. She informs me that my cousin, an Army Ranger, has been critically shot and has lost his right hand. It looks like he’s going to pull through, but will be recovering in a hospital in Germany for weeks. I hang up and feel chills running down my spine, my hair stands on end and I try, but find it hard, to speak to my coworker. I spend the rest of the day thinking about my selfishness. This is Memorial Day and up until that phone call, I had not devoted a single thought to my cousins fighting overseas. Now, I get the news that one of them, Leroy Petry, had nearly died. Every Memorial Day since — and many other days — I think about Leroy and what he means to me.

Later that summer, I learn some details about what happened on May 26, 2008. At Leroy’s welcome home party, he shows the family where a bullet ripped through both of his legs, leaving massive scars. Also, he has fun showing off his new mechanical hand, which replaced the real limb that was blown off — just below the elbow — by a grenade. The family asks many questions, although he can only answer a few. Someone brings fireworks to the party, which I don’t think is a good idea. But Leroy doesn’t mind. In fact, he’s the first to light the fuse. Nothing fazes him. If he is feeling any pain from his injuries, he hides it behind the smile that never leaves his face. The family is proud of him and glad that he’s alive.

On Tuesday, it was announced that President Barack Obama will present my cousin, Sgt. 1st Class Leroy Arthur Petry, with the Medal of Honor — the highest military decoration — for his courageous actions on the battlefield. He’ll receive the award July 12 in Washington, D.C., and will become only the second living Medal of Honor recipient since the Vietnam War.

I will later learn more details of the actions that led to Leroy being nominated for this prestigious award. My cousin, already shot through both legs, sacrificed his right arm to throw a grenade away from two of his fellow soldiers, saving their lives that day in Afghanistan. Leroy was already a hero to his family, but as his tale of bravery is relayed to a wider audience, he’s quickly becoming a national hero. I talked to my cousin by phone Thursday and joked with him that he’s now the most famous person I know. Leroy laughed, but not without some trepidation.

Leroy Petry, in red, hangs out with cousins in Santa Fe, circa 1992. Pictured in front are Michael Petry, Samantha Drysdale 
and Lucas Peerman. In back are Steven Drysdale and Leroy, who would both became Army Rangers.
‘Everybody liked Leroy’

Leroy grew up in Santa Fe, the middle of five sons of Larry and Lorella Petry and surrounded by dozens of uncles, aunts, cousins and our Grandma and Grandpa. I grew up in Las Cruces, an only child living 200 miles away from the closest relative aside from my parents.

By no means were Leroy (who is a year older than me) and I the best of friends, but we did hang out during many Christmas and summer vacations. For the most part, those were nights spent learning how to get into — and get out of — trouble. Leroy, 31, has two older brothers — Larry Armando, 33, and Lloyd, 32. (His other brothers are quite a bit younger — Lyndon is almost 19 and Lincoln is 18). Another cousin of ours who grew up in Santa Fe is Steven Drysdale, 32. Steven and Leroy were inseparable as youngsters, except when an adult had to step in to break up the inevitable fight when one didn’t get their way. But they were quick to be best friends again. Steven is also an Army Ranger and a big influence on why Leroy decided to join.

Leroy, being the youngest of the crop of cousins from Santa Fe born in the late '70s, was always especially eager to please. If someone needed something done, he’d be the first to volunteer. That’s because he could never sit still. He was always involved in some activity — football, basketball, fixing cars, even cooking.

“Everybody liked Leroy. He was always smiling, laughing, bonding with people,” his dad told me Friday during a phone conversation. “I don’t think he had one enemy until he got to Afghanistan.”

Even on the football field, Leroy was easygoing and amicable. His dad said he earned the nickname “Powderpuff” because “he never really had the instinct to hit anybody.”

Unfortunately, Leroy didn’t take his studies very seriously either and had to repeat his freshman year at Santa Fe High School. As a high school sophomore, Leroy transferred to St. Catherine Indian School, a small, private school in Santa Fe, “and that’s when he turned his life around,” his dad said. Leroy graduated in 1998, the final year St. Cate’s was open.

After a year at New Mexico Highlands University in Las Vegas, he enlisted into the Army Rangers in September 1999. As expected, Leroy fit in right away.

After returning from a tour of duty overseas, Army Ranger Leroy Petry poses for a picture with his son, Landon, and his grandfather, Leo Petry, an Air Force veteran, at Leo’s house in Santa Fe. Also pictured, from left, are Leroy’s uncle, Charles Drysdale, grandmother Bertha Petry and brother Larry Armando Petry.

‘Don’t be a damn hero’

My uncle Larry said Leroy would call him before each overseas deployment. “I would tell him, ‘Don’t be a damn hero. Do your job and get your ass home.’ He’d say, ‘Dad, I’m going with the best. Don’t worry, we have each other’s backs.’”

When my uncle got the phone call in late May 2008 telling him of Leroy’s injuries, there were many questions. “All I knew is he was shot and had been blown up by a grenade. I was devastated.”

After the incident, Leroy was transported to an American hospital in Germany. There, our German-born relative Martina Feld (our grandfather’s cousin) was able to visit. “I asked him if he wanted anything, and he said Gummy Bears,” Martina remembers. “So, that’s what I brought him.”

Leroy was eventually moved to Carl R. Darnall Army Medical Center at Fort Hood, Texas, where he was fitted with a mechanical hand. My Uncle Larry went to visit him the first chance he could.

“My kid came back alive,” he said, “but I talked to plenty of parents over there whose kids did not. That really hit hard.”

Although Leroy saved the lives of Pvt. 1st Class Lucas Robinson and Sgt. Daniel Higgins on that fateful May day, another soldier — Spc. Christopher Gathercole — wasn’t so lucky. Gathercole was killed by enemy fire while providing assistance to Leroy and the other injured Americans. 

If you ask Leroy, he’ll say he was just doing his job that day. Any Ranger would have done the same. He said he’ll accept the Medal of Honor on behalf of Gathercole, Robinson, Higgins, Staff Sgt. James Roberts, Sgt. 1st Class Jerod Staidle, Spc. Gary Depriest and other members of his Ranger Battalion — all of them his heroes.

“The best part of this award,” he told me, “is the fact that I was nominated by my fellow soldiers. The fact that they thought I deserved it means so much to me.”

Medal of Honor recipient Leroy Petry, 31, in red, is a Santa Fe native and one of five boys born to Larry and Lorella Petry. His brothers, from left, are Lloyd, 32, Lincoln, 18, Lyndon, almost 19, and Larry Armando, 33.
‘I’m gonna go get a haircut.’

When I talked to Leroy on the phone, he said he knows his life is about to change. He’s both humbled and honored to receive the Medal of Honor, and knows the weight of the medal is not measured in pounds, but in expectations.

“I have to live to a certain standard now,” he said. I have no doubts that he will.

While in Washington for the Medal of Honor ceremony, Leroy will visit our nation’s leaders. After that, he’ll fly to New York to appear on “Good Morning America.” After the morning show circuit, there’s another appearance scheduled, and then another. “They’ve got my next 100 days planned,” he laughed.

Leroy said he understands the attention, but is trying not to get caught up in it. His latest Facebook post reads: “I have received a barrage of FB, phone calls, texts, and phone calls/voicemails. Just wanted to say thank you for all your support and although I might not reach all I am humble honored and blessed. The award is bigger than the person and what it represents and I will always remember that.”

Last year, Leroy enlisted in the Army indefinitely. He enjoys his current job — helping soldiers who have lost limbs readapt to society. He has a lovely wife, Ashley, raises three stepchildren — Brittany, Austin and Reagan — as his own, and never goes anywhere without his son, Landon.

“Well, I’m gonna go get a haircut,” Leroy said before we ended our 10-minute phone conversation. “It’s been about a week.” 

So far, that’s life for this family man, Army Ranger and Medal of Honor recipient. And yes, that’s the order Leroy — my hero — would like it listed.

Sergeant getting Medal of Honor is a hero’s hero

This story is from The Associated Press.

JOINT BASE LEWIS-MCCHORD, Wash. — The soldiers who served with the Army sergeant set to receive the Medal of Honor next month because of his actions in Afghanistan say he’s a hero’s hero.

After he had been shot in both legs, Sgt. 1st Class Leroy Arthur Petry didn’t just lose his hand while throwing an enemy grenade away from himself and two fellow Army Rangers. As they continued to fight a small armed group, Petry kept calling out orders and helping his unit fulfill its mission and get the injured men the medical help they needed.

“Everybody would like to think they’d do the same thing,” said Sgt. 1st Class Jarod Christopher Staidle, one of Petry’s fellow soldiers from the 75th Ranger Regiment who spoke to the media Thursday. But no one could possibly know what they would do unless faced with the same situation, he added.
Petry made a conscious decision to go in and help his fellow Rangers who had been wounded, and to move them to a safer location near a chicken coop. If he hadn’t done so, he wouldn’t have been there to grab the grenade and toss it away, saving two men but injuring himself. 

One U.S. soldier was killed in that fight in the eastern Afghan province of Paktia in May 2008, as was the entire enemy unit. 

On July 12, Petry will be the second living, active-duty service member to receive the nation’s highest military decoration for actions in the Iraq or Afghanistan wars. Last year, President Barack Obama awarded a Medal of Honor to Staff Sgt. Sal Giunta, also for actions in Afghanistan.

“He did not consider the long-term repercussions,” said Master Sgt. Reese Wayne Teakell, another highly decorated member of Petry’s unit. 

He could have saved himself by moving his body instead of grabbing the grenade, but his fellow soldiers would likely have died or been severely injured if he made that choice, Teakell added. 

Petry probably knew the moment he reached for that grenade what danger he faced. “There is some voice in all of our heads that says I probably won’t survive this,” Teakell said.

His fellow soldiers immediately recognized the heroic nature of Petry’s actions and knew he had done something special that day.

“I’m very proud of him,” said Master Sgt. Steven L. Walter.

Petry has declined to talk to the media until after the president gives him his medal. Both of the men he saved — Pfc. Lucas Robinson and Sgt. Daniel Higgins — have left the Army and are attending college.

Staidle said Petry is extremely humbled by the honor. Despite being eligible for a medical discharge, he has chosen to stay on active duty and is working near his unit at Joint Base Lewis-McChord, south of Seattle, helping injured soldiers adjust to life after battle. 

Petry and his wife Ashley have four children, Brittany, Austin, Reagan and Landon.

The 31-year-old native of Santa Fe, N.M., has served six tours in Afghanistan and two in Iraq, according to the Army. He enlisted in September 1999. When he reenlisted in 2010, Petry said he loves the work he does helping wounded soldiers.

“If I can’t go to the fight, I can help the men who are wounded, injured or ill,” he said in a statement from the Army.

Petry is determined to “keep rangering” as much as possible, Staidle said.

“He’s always upbeat,” Staidle said. “He hasn’t let any of this go to his head.” 

But he has let it feed his mischievous sense of humor, his comrades agreed. 

They share, with smiles, that Petry’s one regret is that he used his right hand to lob the grenade, since that’s the hand he used to write, golf and shoot a gun. 

He spends a lot of time demonstrating his high-tech prosthetic arm, which means the battery runs down all the time, his fellow Rangers noted. 

That doesn’t seem to be a problem for Petry, however, as he can then carry the arm around and use it as a prop in his comedy routine. They say most people don’t notice the arm, because of the man who is wearing it, except of course when he has taken it off and is shaking someone’s hand with the fake arm he’s holding with his left hand.

Family: Sergeant given Medal of Honor likes pranks

This story was written by Staci Matlock of The Santa Fe New Mexican and distributed by The Associated Press.

SANTA FE — An Army sergeant who will receive the Medal of Honor likes to prank people by showing them the prosthetic he got after losing a hand when he tried to toss away an enemy grenade to protect his colleagues in Afghanistan.

“He loves putting out his prosthetic hand when he first meets people,” said Bertha Petry, the grandmother of Sgt. 1st Class Leroy Arthur Petry. “The hand turns all the way around. He likes to see the look on people’s faces.”

The soldier’s family told the Santa Fe New Mexican in Friday’s edition that Petry has kept a bright outlook despite the injuries he suffered in Afghanistan on May 2008.

“He never felt sorry for himself,” said Petry’s father, Larry Petry. 

The White House announced Tuesday that Petry, a native of Santa Fe, N.M., will be the second living, active-duty soldier to receive the nation’s highest military honor for actions in Iraq or Afghanistan. The ceremony will be July 12.

Petry served with the 75th Ranger Regiment when he was wounded during a raid to capture a target, according to a report from the Army News Service.
He and a colleague were shot while clearing a courtyard, and a bullet pierced both of Petry’s legs. While taking cover, another Army soldier arrived and they were attacked with a grenade, which injured Petry’s two colleagues, according to the report. 

When a second grenade landed near them, Petry grabbed it and tried to toss it away, but it exploded in his hand.  

One of the soldiers, Sgt. Daniel Higgins, said Petry’s actions prevented them from being seriously wounded or killed. 

Petry has said he doesn’t want to do media interviews until after the award ceremony. 

Petry, 31, was nicknamed “Powderpuff” by the assistant coach of his youth football team, and his grandmother referred to him as “Mister Fix It,” the newspaper reported. 

It said Petry struggled through high school, was close to flunking his classes, and got into fights. But he graduated in 1998 and surprised his family with his decision to join the Army because he had never talked about it previously.

However, his aunt, Karen Drysdale, said serving in the military ran in his blood because other family members have enlisted for generations. 

Petry completed multiple combat tours totaling 28 months of deployments to Afghanistan and Iraq. Previous decorations include two Bronze Stars, a Purple Heart and three Army Commendation Medals.

“He says he was just doing his job,” Larry Petry said, referring to his son’s actions in Afghanistan. 

During rehabilitation for his injuries, Sgt. Petry’s family said doctors told him it was possible he would never walk again because of the wounds he suffered to his legs. That prognosis did not deter him. 

“When a nurse tried to bring a wheelchair, Leroy pushed it away,” Larry Petry said. “He told me, ‘I’m going to walk again.”’ 

Since then, he has become an avid golfer and learned to water ski with one hand.

He now works at Joint Base Lewis-McChord, south of Seattle, where he helps injured Rangers returning from deployment 

For months, his family has known that he was nominated for the Medal of Honor. Still, they say the honor Sgt. Petry is set to receive was a wonderful surprise. 

“It is taking time to sink in,” Larry Petry said.