July 13, 2011 -- Secretary of the Army remarks at Hall of Heroes induction of Sgt. 1st Class Leroy A
July 14, 2011
By U.S. Army
Sergeant [Petry], I've been telling you and your bride for the past two weeks how special it is that we have a chance to honor you. And, I will tell you that normally to get this kind of crowd we have to give away an automobile [laughter] -- and there are no door prizes that I know of -- so I think the fact that we see so many great leaders here speaks directly to the great and humbling feeling that we hold in our hearts for you ... for your Family ... for your children of course. And, it begs the question: who the hell's running the Army right now? [laughter]
Secretary Panetta -- sir, welcome home after a great trip. In the world that you and I previously lived in, the measure is great press -- you got great press, so it was a great trip [laughter]. But, most importantly, sir, thank you for once again in your long career heeding the call of service. All of us are thrilled that you're here in this building and looking forward to working with you.
Chief ... Mrs. Dempsey ... I'm trying to think of a punch line but I can't do that ... [laughter].
Admiral Olsen ... ma'am.
Sergeant Major Chandler ... Mrs. Chandler.
All the Rays ...
The Under Secretary of the Army ... many, many Under Secretaries of Defense ...
And, I feel like I'm looking at the Milky Way at midnight with all these stars ... but, as I said, I think they truly do speak directly to the great admiration we hold.
And, I want to thank all of you for being here -- for being a very special part of what is obviously a very special occasion.
But, I want to give a particular tip of the hat to a number of other Medal of Honor recipients who have joined us here today -- although I can't pick them out here at this moment but I trust they are with us -- LTG Robert Foley, COL Harvey Barnum, COL Bruce Crandall and 1LT Brian Thacker.
When I was preparing for today's ceremony, I watched some of the interviews Leroy had done with Army television. And, in one of the sessions that he partook in, he said that after learning he was being awarded the Medal of Honor, Army Special Operations Commander LTG John Mulholland -- who is here -- told him "your ruck sack just got a little heavier, but don't think you have to carry that on your own."
Well, Leroy, I will tell you that General Foley, Colonel Barnum, Colonel Crandall, Lieutenant Thacker and all those who have gloriously gone before can help you make that ruck sack a little lighter as well, through their experience, their inspiration, their service, sacrifice and valor.
But, to those four gentlemen, I would tell you -- your ranks are quite a bit stringer this day. Sergeant Petry joins your small and elite group of American warriors who have earned our Nation's highest military honor. Gentlemen, thank you so much for being here and for your continued service as well [applause].
Sergeant First Class Leroy Arthur Petry.
Now, I don't think this event needs any more poignancy, but I'd like all of you to think about that name. Really -- think about how long it took me to say it - Sergeant First Class Leroy Arthur Petry. That's about the same amount of time, I suspect, that the good sergeant had to react, to move toward that grenade -- as Admiral Olsen said when every instinct would tell us to go the other way -- to take that grenade that was thrown at him to throw it away, and, as a result, save his Ranger buddies ... save the lives of Sergeant Dan Higgins and Private First Class Lucas Robinson. And he did it, by the way, having already sustained rather severe wounds in both of his legs.
Now, I don't know about the rest of you, but it takes me longer than that to punch in a new channel on the TV on my remote. But, that's the amount of time that it took this hero to step forward and to do the right thing.
It was certainly his training, it was certainly his courage, and a little bit of instinct I suspect. But, I've got to believe as well -- having spent some time with his Family over the last several days -- it was also a bit of growing up with two older brothers, two younger brothers, and a whole passel of cousins - where I'm guessing you had to be pretty quick if you were going to get your fair share at the dinner table.
And looking at the good sergeant, strapping guy that he is, seems at the dinner table he was quick enough. [laughter] ... I mean that in a very physically fit way, Sergeant. [laughter]
But no matter what the reason, what he did is what makes him, the other four recipients with us here today, and those that have gone before, so very special ... one of the elite.
Perhaps his former Platoon leader, CPT Kyle Packard, summed it up best when he said: "SFC Petry is the epitome of a Noncommissioned Officer. He relentlessly accomplishes his mission, whether in combat or in training Rangers, with the utmost professionalism and zeal without the desire for recognition or reward."
Well, Segreant, you may not desire recognition or reward, but you sure have the grit, the courage and just the basic willingness to do it.
It's that quiet professionalism, that selfless service that really struck me when we first met in my office a number of weeks ago -- and if you saw him yesterday at the White House, under pretty intense circumstances I would think, he was quick to smile and quick to laugh, and despite the weight of the historic honor that at that time he was about to receive -- and now he has received -- he was so unaffected, so personable, so human. And I really thought to myself he could be any Soldier -- he could particularly be a representative of the entire NCO corps, the Ranger role model of character, professional and personal excellence.
Now I think it probably would have been pretty easy, given his actions, given his injuries, for the good Sergeant to leave the Army, to collect this incredibly high honor, declare victory and walk off into the sunset. But no, that's not what he chose to do. He chose to continue to serve, to be that role model, and work with wounded warriors, ill and injured service members and their families. I want to tell you -- we are grateful, we are humbled by your continued service to this Nation and to those who have stood beside you in your ranks and who too have so proudly served in the uniform of the United States military.
Now, throughout his military career, Sergeant Petry has had his Alpha and Bravo team leaders. Well, when he's at home, he has another team leader -- what we in the Army call his "Household 6" -- his wife, Ashley. Now, there's a little story about how they first met [laughter] -- gee, I should just leave it like that and let the suspense kind of hang [laughter] -- no, I have to tell them ... it's not that bad after all [laughter].
Leroy was out celebrating because he thought he had won the lottery -- I happen to believe he was celebrating and then he thought he won the lottery [laughter] -- but it's his story so I'll go along with it [laughter]. But one of the people, everybody agrees, that he met out that night, was the woman who would become the love of his life.
As his squad leader noted the next day -- as only squad leaders can: "I see you're back at work, big winner." See, it turned out he didn't have the winning numbers after all -- that's why I think he'd been celebrating a while before he even bought the ticket [laughter]. I guess even heroes can be wrong on occasion. But -- you know what -- he was a big winner that night, because he won an even more important prize -- over time, he won Ashley. And I want to say congratulations Leroy, you did win a lottery. But, more importantly, to Ashley, to your children and to your Family -- you too have sacrificed ... you too serve ... and we're deeply in your debt for all that you do in support of this hero and all that you continue to do to make him the great person that he is. God bless you for that [applause].
Now, this is the part of my speech where I was going to tell the story about what he said about throwing [the grenade] with the other hand -- but I've learned a lesson -- don't let a Navy guy into an Army celebration [laughter]. The Admiral (Admiral Olsen, Commander of US Special Operations Command) took my line, but that's OK, Admiral, because I can say something that you didn't ... there's a bright side to this (to losing one's right hand and becoming a lefty) -- and I can say that because I'm left handed, and the gentleman who presented you with that Medal of Honor, President Barak Obama is left-handed. So, there is a silver lining.
And, I would tell you that according to the Left Handers Club -- and that's a real thing you can look it up on the internet ... so it must exist [laughter] -- and, according to the Left Handers Club, and I'm going to quote here: "left-handers are generally more intelligent, better looking, imaginative and multi-talented than right handers." [laughter and applause] Well, every lefthander in the audience is saying "see, I told you so" [laughter] ... I am obviously an anomaly [laughter], but in you I can see where most of that is true.
On a serious note, let me just wrap up here. All of us, but I'll speak for myself, are deeply honored and proud to be here today, to salute your service, to salute your valor and your courage. And, equally importantly, to thank you for the lives you saved -- because at the end of the day that's what you were attempting to do and you did it. And to thank you as well for an incredible continued commitment to our Nation, our Army, and the 75th Ranger Regiment.
Part of the Ranger creed says "I will always endeavor to uphold the prestige, honor, and high esprit de corps of my Ranger Regiment." Sergeant, you've done that. You've done that and more. And you, and your wife, have set a standard.
Ashley you once noted that "we have a lot in common, a lot to share ... we're there for each other, for comfort, for strength."
I would say to you -- Leroy, Ashley, Brittany, Austin, Reagan, Landon, mom and dad -- all the Petry Family and the 75th Ranger Regiment -- today, it's your Family that gives us strength, that gives us courage. Congratulations and thank you for letting us bestow this great honor upon you. Thank you.