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Two Medal of Honor recipients recognized at MacDill

TAMPA — Both put their lives on the line in Afghanistan to save comrades during battles in 2008.

Sgt. 1st Class Leroy Petry picked up a live grenade during a firefight with the Taliban. It exploded in his hand as he threw it back toward the enemy. Petry saved two fellow Rangers. He lived but lost his right hand.

Four months later, Staff Sgt. Robert Miller ordered his men back to cover during a Taliban ambush. Miller charged the enemy but was cut down and killed.

The Army sergeants earned the nation's highest decoration: the Medal of Honor.

Miller, 24, and Petry, now 33, were recognized during a ceremony Wednesday at a memorial outside U.S. Special Operations Command headquarters at MacDill Air Force Base. Their names were placed on a wall honoring Special Forces troops who have earned the Medal of Honor.

President Barack Obama had previously presented the Medal of Honor to Miller's family in 2010 and to Petry in 2011.

"Today is about much more than just pomp and circumstance," Adm. William McRaven, SOCom chief, told a crowd. "This is about honoring the people and stories that breathe life into the granite walls that surround us. The black stone preserves and promotes our heritage."

The ceremony was attended by Miller's two sisters and parents, Maureen and Philip Miller. Petry, his right hand replaced by a high-tech prosthesis, attended with his wife, Ashley.

Petry, a native of New Mexico, was only the second living recipient of the Medal of Honor in action during the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. When Obama presented him with it at the White House, Petry showed the president a small plaque bolted to the prosthetic with the names of fallen Rangers.

The action that nearly killed Petry occurred during a raid of a Taliban compound. He was taking cover with two other Rangers when a grenade fell at their feet.

Petry, already shot through his legs, grabbed it.

"I threw it with all my force," Petry said. "As soon as my hand opened up, the grenade exploded. The hand was completely gone like it had been severed with circular saw."

He applied a tourniquet and continued to coordinate support by radio.

McRaven said Petry, who plans to stay in the Army, still volunteers for combat. But the military traditionally does not return living Medal of Honor recipients to the fighting.

Petry said he was humbled to be honored with Miller.

On Jan. 25, 2008, Miller led a squad toward a narrow valley when an enemy force opened up.

"With total disregard for his own safety," the Medal of Honor citation says, Miller "called for his men to quickly move back to covered positions as he charged the enemy over exposed ground … to provide protective fire."

Miller, a native of Pennsylvania whose family now lives in the Orlando area, continued fighting even after being shot in the upper body and killed at least 10 insurgents before dying.

"His legacy," Petry said, "will live on forever."

William R. Levesque can be reached at (813) 226-3432.

Two Medal of Honor recipients recognized at MacDill 03/27/13 [Last modified: Thursday, March 28, 2013 12:11am]

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