WASHINGTON — Former Army Staff Sgt. Ryan Pitts doesn't see the Medal of Honor that was bestowed on him Monday for bravery in Afghanistan as his alone.
The nation's highest military honor, awarded for bravery and gallantry, is "ours, not mine. It represents the sacrifices we all made," Pitts said in an interview, referring to his fellow soldiers, "and it's a memorial for all the guys that didn't come home."
Pitts, a 28-year-old from Nashua, N.H., received the medal at a White House ceremony while surrounded by family, fellow soldiers and high government officials.
He became one of more than 3,400 recipients of the nation's most coveted military decoration and the second from his unit, the 2nd Battalion of the 503rd Infantry Regiment. Known as Chosen Company, it's one of the most decorated companies since the war on terror began, according to the Army.
Upon placing the medal around Pitts' neck, President Barack Obama said, "It is remarkable that we have young men and women serving in our military with so much integrity, so much humility. Ryan represents the very best of that tradition."
During the ceremony, Pitts stood tall and breathed deeply as the president recounted how the soldier — a 22-year-old paratrooper at the time — fought off some 200 enemy fighters while at his observation post near Wanat, Afghanistan, in July 2008, following the deaths of nine of his comrades. Pitts was wounded in one arm and both legs.
"Against that onslaught, one American held the line," Obama said. "As the insurgents moved in, Ryan picked up a grenade, pulled the pin and held that live grenade for a moment, then another, and then another, finally throwing it so they couldn't throw it back. And he did that again and he did that again. Unable to stand, Ryan put himself up on his knees and manned a machine gun."
Yet asked about the battle in an interview before the ceremony, Pitts was brief and humble.
"It was a bad day for us, but a tactical victory in the end," he said. "We held our ground."
After some time in the hospital and his discharge from the Army, Pitts attended college, got married and now has a 1-year-old son.
"Seeing my friends make the ultimate sacrifice for the rest of us, I have an appreciation for life that I didn't before," Pitts said in the interview. "They gave me a gift and I'm just not going to waste it. I'll live a life worthy of their sacrifice."
He said that the Medal of Honor carries a responsibility to advocate for veterans and "tell our story. But I welcome that responsibility."