September 2, 2011
SNOQUALMIE, Wash. --
Being a celebrity still takes some getting used to for Sgt. 1st Class Leroy Petry.
He shook hands, stopped for photos and signed autographs, while he hung out with Champions Tour golfers at the Boeing Classic at Snoqualmie Ridge Aug. 28.
"It's weird," Petry said. "You get treated different, but at the same time I try to look past the celebrity status and be normal."
Since being awarded the Medal of Honor by President Barack Obama on July 12, Petry has made appearances all over the country. Last weekend he was close to home as he was recognized at the Boeing Classic's Military Appreciation Day.
Petry, along with his 17-year old son Austin West, were named honorary observers with the tournament's final-day leaders. Petry was introduced before the golfers teed off and the crowd responded with a standing ovation.
Ed Booth of Auburn sat outside of the rope and shouted out to Petry. Booth, who served 33 years in the U.S. Coast Guard, wanted to shake his hand.
"Thank you for your service," Booth told him.
It was emotional for Booth to meet and shake the hand of a hero.
"I know what these guys go through," he said.
Booth made sure to shake the hand of everyone in uniform. Members of the Navy, Air Force, Army and Coast Guard made the first-tee player announcements.
After opening drives, Petry followed tournament leaders Mark Calcavecchia, Kenny Perry and Russ Cochran through their final round. He walked along the fairways, sometimes catching a ride on a golf cart to the next tee, but he always stopped when a spectator wanted to shake his hand or snap a photo with their cell phone.
A young boy walked up to Petry and asked him for his autograph. Petry signed four different trading cards of himself and handed them to the boy.
"You thinking about joining in the future?" Petry asked him.
"I don't know; we'll see," the boy responded.
Spectators approached Petry to shake his hand even during interviews with media.
"It's an honor," they told him.
"It's really cool to be out here with my dad and meet all these people," West said. "And seeing all the people come up to him and thank him."
Petry had the best seat in the house when tournament leaders Calcavecchia and Cochran battled it out in a playoff hole. Calcavecchia birdied the sudden-death hole to defeat Cochran for his first Champions Tour victory in 31 appearances. The win moves Calcavecchia up to second place in the Charles Schwab Cup points race.
"This was amazing," Petry said. "It's been great. I'm at a loss for words for it."
To honor the nation's servicemembers during its military appreciation day, the Boeing Classic offered free admission and parking to military personnel, veterans and Family members. Throughout the course, 1,424 American flags fluttered in the breeze and the day began with a special opening ceremony featuring the U.S. Armed Forces Color Guard.
Petry has been recognized at numerous events, including New York Mets and Seattle Mariners baseball games. His role at the Boeing Classic gave him the ability to not just connect with the athletes but also for people to connect with him.
"He's not isolated like he was at those games," Sgt. 1st Class Michael Noggle said. "This one has been great because he's been out walking around getting to meet everyone."
Noggle met Petry just prior to his being awarded the Medal of Honor. Since then he has served as Petry's public relations representative as he has traveled to events. During a recent visit to Petry's home state, New Mexico, 800 military personnel, veterans and well wishers turned out to welcome him.
"He wanted to shake everyone's hands," Noggle said. "We were there for almost two hours."
The 2011 Boeing Classic drew 80,000 spectators during the week, setting a tournament record. The day after it ended, Petry and his entourage headed to San Antonio, for a Veterans of Foreign Wars Convention.