Our American Dream: SFC Leroy Arthur Petry, Medal of Honor Recipient
Click Here to watch the full length interview with SFC Petry.
Q: Take us back to the combat action on that day in Afghanistan.
A: We were clearing the compound, PFC Robinson was behind me. I got shot through both my thighs. At the time I only thought it was only my left thigh. It felt like a hammer, I thought maybe the bullet got stuck in there but I kept running around doing stuff. Still calling up on the radio, engaging the enemy with a thermal grenade. PFC Robinson was hit in the side. Sgt. Higgins came back to link up with us.
I was trying to do the right thing, keep everyone informed about what was going on and still look after my guys. I was pulling security to the left and I looked back to the right and in between me and my guys was a hand grenade and I knew at that point if I didn't react it probably would have killed all three of us.
So I reached over, grabbed it and as I was throwing it, opened my hand and right about that time the grenade blew the hand completely off.
Q: What was that specific accident like?
A: I sat back up looked at the hand, the wrist - what was left of the arm. It was pretty grotesque. It had looked like someone had taken a circular saw and just hacked it off. The thing that went through my mind for a split second was why isn't this spraying off into the wind like Hollywood in the air. But then I reacted back to training. It was kind of odd I didn't feel much pain.
So, I was able to get my tourniquet, apply the tourniquet myself, after we've been trained so many times, trying to keep calm, keep in control, give commands to my younger guys. Make them aware that yeah I am hurt but I'm not down and out of the fight, keep my higher command informed about what was going on.
Q: What would have happened had that grenade gone off?
A: We were definitely all within the kill radius we would have either been killed or traumatically injured.
Q: What kind of mindset do you have to have to go back five, six, seven, eight time for tours in Afghanistan and Iraq?
A. I love the camaraderie being there with my fellow rangers. I've been to Afhganistan six times now. Seeing the improvements, seeing the good that's being done over there, the roads being built, the schools, the support of the community over there. Just all the good stuff, there is some bad stuff, You got to take the good and the bad and I love seeing the good that we're doing over there.
Q: Where were you and how was it when you found out you were getting the Medal of Honor?
A: I was at home with my wife and it was great conversation with President Obama. It was a real personal, good conversation and my wife the whole day was saying I feel nauseous, I feel nauseous. It definitely struck her pretty good too.
Q: What was it like growing up?
A: Family life was good, mother and father worked to raise three boys and then it turned into five. I was the youngest for quite some time. Rough house boys growing up, always fighting, arguing having a good time. School was great. They said I had some issues in high school and I wasn't doing great.
So I had done so well my junior and senior year volunteering and stuff the Chamber of Commerce actually gave me the bootstrap award. Which, I didn't know what it was at the time, well, it comes from an old military term of how they used to put on their boots. They used to pull them up by the straps seeing what you've done to turn it around you kind of pulled yourself up. So, it was great.
Q: Where did you get this want to be in the military?
A: I think I was a really young age. I think I was seven at the time, and it sunk into me. Something I wanted to do. Something I wanted to be. A soldier, a service member, defend the constitution and the nation and to me it's one of the highest things you can do in the U.S. of A. Seeing Desert Storm and Desert Shield growing up definitely impacted my thought process of, "Hey this is something you want to do" and just went out and did it.
Q: So talk to me about the hand.
A: To be honest when I lost my hand I thought I was just going to have a normal hook like you see a lot of people have. Well, they've done a lot of upgrades. It's phenomenal, the prosthetics are just getting better and better and they they are taking a lot of good care of all of our soldiers that are amputees - legs, arms. Anything that you wanted to do, and wanted to do in the future, we will find something to adapt it for you. I'm excited for the technology that has come forward.
Q:When you go out there and shake someone's hand, what's the reaction from people?
A:I don't tell a lot of people. Because sometimes I like to see them jump just to see what reaction I get from them. Then afterwards they are fascinated. Children always come up walk by and they'll kind of touch my arm and run off as if they didn't do it but it's fun.
Q: What is your role in helping wounded soldiers? You have a new perspective now, what do you see in these soldiers and how are you helping them?
A: I'll tell you they are helping me and I am helping them at the same time. They may not realize it but the benefits of seeing them improve and being able to assist them with anything - making sure they get the proper medical care, that they're getting all of their entitlements, making sure their families are taken care of as well out of all the special operations rangers, special forces, navy seals, air force special operations and the 4th 160th guys.
Q: Is this going to be a newfound passion of yours-making sure wounded soldiers are being taken care of?
A: You know I love it. I have had opportunities to get out of the military. There were job offers that were great but I love what I am doing and it's rewarding. So I'm going to continue to do it.
Q: What makes someone a hero?
A: I think we all have our own opinion of what we think a hero is. A lot of my heroes are military. They are the one's who serve 20, 30 plus years and keep driving on and say I'm going to give more and more and more to my country. Everyone that starts out in the military usually starts at a young age, 17, 18, 19 even early 20's and to tack on 30 years on top of that - you are in your 50's and you've given quite a bit to this country and that's quite a sacrifice.
Q: Do you see yourself going down that road also?
A: I don't know I'm going to go as long as I can.
Q: What is your ultimate message to young soldiers out there?
A: Thank you for what you are doing. Keep doing what you are doing. And thank you, Especially for those over seas, thank you from one soldier to another - thank you.
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