WASHINGTON — A veteran who helped "defend the indefensible" at a vulnerable Army outpost in Afghanistan received the nation's highest award for military valor Monday at a tearful White House ceremony that also honored the eight men who did not survive the Taliban attack.
President Barack Obama lauded former Staff Sgt. Clinton Romesha's bravery in fighting back an intense daylong barrage by enemy fighters. The Taliban descent on Combat Outpost Keating in the mountains near the Pakistan border at 6 a.m. on Oct. 3, 2009, shook Romesha out of his bed into what Obama said has been called one of the most intense battles of the war.
The Americans were outmanned 53 to more than 300, but most survived. "These men were outnumbered, outgunned, and almost overrun," Obama said.
Romesha, 31, listened to the commendation while fighting back tears, sometimes unsuccessfully, the families of his fallen comrades sitting together and crying in the East Room. Other troops who fought that day also watched as the president placed the medal hanging from a blue ribbon around Romesha's neck.
"I'm feeling conflicted with this medal I now wear," Romesha told reporters after the ceremony. "The joy comes from recognition for us doing our jobs as soldiers on distant battlefields, but is countered by the constant reminder of the loss of our battle buddies, my battle buddies, my soldiers, my friends."
Eight U.S. soldiers were killed in the fighting and 22 were wounded, including Romesha, who was peppered with shrapnel in the hip, arm and neck. He fought through his wounds to take out at least 10 Taliban fighters, lead other soldiers to safety, defend the burning camp, and retrieve the bodies of the fallen Americans.
Romesha, who grew up in Lake City, Calif., also served twice in Iraq. He is the fourth living Medal of Honor recipient for Iraq or Afghanistan actions.