By Army Sgt. 1st Class Tyrone C. Marshall Jr.
American Forces Press Service
WASHINGTON, March 14, 2012 – The Army’s most recent Medal of Honor recipient cited the “miracles” that saved his life one fateful day in Afghanistan during the Pentagon’s national prayer breakfast, which featured spiritual resilience to overcome adversity as its theme.
“Our freedom of religion and freedom of practice of that religion in the military is one of our greatest assets to our fighting force,” Sgt. 1st Class Leroy A. Petry told the audience today. “We’re truly blessed to be in existence in the best nation in the world.”
Speaking to an audience of service members and civilians, Petry spoke of the role religion has played in his life and throughout his military career.
“I’ve been to several denominations of churches throughout my life -- from Mormon [to] Christian [and] Baptist -- and approached each one with an open mind,” said Petry, noting that he was raised Catholic.
“The thing that I took away from each gathering of people to show their faith was not the differences, but the unity of giving praise to a higher being,” he said. “And what they had -– their faiths and beliefs.”
Whether it’s through a church gathering or another avenue, Petry noted the importance of surrounding oneself with a support system rather than fighting through issues alone.
“It’s my fellow service members that pushed me through rehab, fellow Rangers that continue to push me today … and that’s the way I look at it,” he said. “Our God tells us that he’s going to be there for us, but he wants us to help each other.”
Petry further explained his thoughts, citing two “miracles” from that fateful day of May 26, 2008, which he was later recognized for with the Medal of Honor.
“One, that my fellow Rangers with me were not killed by the grenade that took my hand,” he said. “And two, that the 7.62 [mm] round that went through both my upper thighs did not hit any arteries, bone or major nerves.”
Petry was referring to the operation he was part of to capture an insurgent leader in a compound in Paktia province, near the Pakistan border. His unit was met with heavy automatic weapons fire when they moved into the area. He and several of his fellow soldiers were wounded and sought cover as an enemy lobbed a grenade at the unit.
Although wounded in both legs by assault-rifle fire, Petry picked up the grenade to throw it back at the enemy when it detonated, amputating his right hand.
Petry said his faith has helped him deal with his injuries. “Leviticus 19:18 is one of the passages I like: ‘Do not seek revenge or bear a grudge against one of your people. Love your neighbor as yourself.’”
Petry said he doesn’t bear resentment against the people of Afghanistan or their country, but on the contrary, was proud to serve there and “watch their communities become a better place.”
“I learned compassion and humbleness through religion,” he said. “You can go from the top of the world to the bottom in an instant. And no one is exempt from life and its curve balls. Do what is right by your neighbor as they are your family.
“I used to laugh when people asked what race I am … I would say human,” he added. “‘Greater love has no one than this, that he lay down his life for his friends’ -- John 15:13, one of the things that I hold near and dear. And our country has so many of those heroes that have given the ultimate sacrifice for the love of the country.”
Petry expressed his gratitude to people who pray for soldiers and other service members stationed or deployed overseas.
“Prayers are what kept me alive,” he said. “Not only my own, but families and friends and even those that don’t know me who just prayed for me and all the other men and women in the service.”
Petry, a proud Army Ranger, said with a laugh that he thinks the Special Forces motto says it best.
“De Oppresso Libre -- free the oppressed,” he said. “Our friends are those in need and even though they don’t know us we do it because we believe it’s right.”
“I would like thank all those who pray for the men and women in uniform … I wish all of you the best,” he said. “May God bless you all.”