SAN DIEGO – President Bush on Tuesday awarded the nation's highest military tribute to a Navy SEAL who was killed when he threw himself on a grenade in Iraq to save his comrades.
The president, blinking back tears, recognized the bravery of Michael A. Monsoor, who was part of a sniper team in Ramadi when he died on Sept. 29, 2006. Bush presented the medal to Monsoor's parents, Sally and George Monsoor, before about 250 guests, including some of his fellow soldiers, in an East Room ceremony.
The emotional ceremony came as the top U.S. general and diplomat in Iraq opened two days of congressional testimony on the status of the war, now in its sixth year. Monsoor was the third Medal of Honor winner from the Iraq war.
"Petty Officer Monsoor distinguished himself by extraordinary heroism on Sept. 29, 2006," press secretary Dana Perino told reporters during a briefing aboard Air Force One as Bush headed to Europe for a NATO summit.
Monsoor was part of a sniper security team in Ramadi with three other SEALs and eight Iraqi soldiers, according to a Navy account. An insurgent fighter threw the grenade, which struck Monsoor in the chest before falling in front of him.
Monsoor then threw himself on the grenade, according to a SEAL who spoke to The Associated Press in 2006 on condition of anonymity because his work requires his identity to remain secret.
"He never took his eye off the grenade, his only movement was down toward it," said a 28-year-old lieutenant, who suffered shrapnel wounds to both legs that day. "He undoubtedly saved mine and the other SEALs' lives, and we owe him."
Two SEALs next to Monsoor were injured; another who was 10 feet to 15 feet from the blast was unhurt. Monsoor, from Garden Grove, Calif., was 25 at the time.
Monsoor, a platoon machine gunner, had received the Silver Star, the third-highest award for combat valor, for his actions pulling a wounded SEAL to safety during a May 9, 2006, firefight in Ramadi.
He was posthumously awarded the Bronze Star for his sacrfice in Ramadi.
Sixteen SEALs have been killed in Afghanistan. Eleven of them died in June 2005 when a helicopter was shot down near the Pakistan border while ferrying reinforcements for troops pursuing Al Qaeda militants.
There are about 2,300 of the elite fighters, based in Coronado and Little Creek, Va.
The Navy is trying to boost the number by 500 — a challenge considering more than 75 percent of candidates drop out of training, notorious for "Hell Week," five days of continual drills by the ocean broken by only four hours sleep total.
Monsoor made it through training on his second attempt.