By Marisa Petrich, Northwest GuardianJuly 12, 2011
JOINT BASE LEWIS-MCCHORD, Wash., July 12, 2011 -- Duane Hardesty’s across-the-street neighbor is a lot like anyone else’s.
He mows the lawn, washes his car and occasionally comes over to sit on the porch and talk.
That’s where his neighbor, Sgt. 1st Class Leroy A. Petry, 2nd Battalion, 75th Ranger Regiment, was on an evening in May, after the White House announced that he would receive the Medal of Honor for conspicuous gallantry in Afghanistan.
Petry, who lost his right hand throwing a grenade away from his fellow Rangers in 2008, and his wife Ashley, were sitting outside the Hardestys’ home in Steilacoom, Wash., when the congratulatory texts and calls started to arrive. But in spite of his recent notoriety, friends and fellow Soldiers say he’s the same guy he’s always been -- and that they couldn’t be prouder.
“It’s an incredible honor to know them personally and just be able to be a help to them,” he said of the family.
Hardesty, a retired Army colonel, works for a private contractor that assists severely wounded servicemembers.
He remembers every detail of the first time he saw Petry without his hand. He had just returned from a business trip when his wife came into his study.
“I thought she’d seen a ghost or something,” Hardesty said.
His wife told him Leroy and Ashley wanted to see him. When he came outside, he could see right away his neighbor’s hand had been amputated at the wrist.
“I just gave him a bear hug and we cried for a while,” Hardesty said.
Staff Sgt. Nathan Norton, 2-75 Rngr., has other vivid memories of Petry. He was part of the mission that day in Afghanistan, but couldn’t be at the White House ceremony on Tuesday. Instead, he watched with the rest of D Company (Petry’s former company) at Farrelli’s Wood Fire Pizza in DuPont, Wash.
“I can’t congratulate him enough,” Norton said.
He remembers the events of May 26, 2008, as though they happened in slow motion, and knew even then what an incredible thing he was witnessing.
There was no question in anyone’s mind that Petry deserved to be nominated for the award, Norton said.
Aside from his missing hand, though, not much about Petry has changed. Before, he was known for always joking around -- maybe even a little too much. Now his prosthetic arm just gives him another prop to be the goofy guy he always was.
“How the President described him is pretty much how he is,” Sgt. 1st Class Aric Daldon, who’s known Petry about six years, said after the ceremony.
Now Petry works with other wounded, injured and ill Soldiers at Joint Base Lewis-McChord, and Hardesty said there’s no better man for that job, or to set an example as a Medal of Honor recipient.
“He’s so focused on making sure he represents not only the Army, but every warrior (who has) ever worn a uniform,” he said.
Hardesty expects that when Petry comes back to the house across the street, he and his family will be just as humble, dedicated and duty-driven as they’ve always been.
But he knows one thing for certain -- the next time he sees his neighbor, he’s going to salute him.
“I couldn’t be prouder of him if he were my own son,” he said.