WASHINGTON - Sgt. 1st Class Jared C. Monti died one sweltering June day in 2006 on a remote ridge in Afghanistan, on his third attempt to creep through pounding insurgent fire to rescue one of his wounded soldiers.
On Thursday, in the ornate East Room of the White House, a somber President Barack Obama recognized Monti with the nation's highest decoration, the Medal of Honor. It was the first such ceremony for the commander in chief, who has sent 17,000 more troops to fight in Afghanistan this year.
Monti - whose parents, Paul and Janet, received the award on his behalf - is only the second soldier to receive the medal for combat in Afghanistan. He enlisted in the Army before his 1994 graduation from high school in Raynham, Mass., and was on his second tour of duty in Afghanistan, a veteran at age 30 whose men in the 10th Mountain Division patrol sometimes called him "grandpa."
The president cited in his presentation "words of weight" - duty, honor, country, service, sacrifice and heroism.
"Do we really grasp the meaning of these values? Do we truly understand the nature of these virtues, to serve and to sacrifice?" Obama asked. "Jared Monti knew. The Monti family knows."
Monti himself had wrestled with the weight of his responsibilities, fellow soldiers and his father have said, especially when it was his job to call in strikes in areas where the Taliban might have mingled with civilians.
With vivid details, the president told the story of 16 soldiers who were surrounded and outnumbered by insurgents yet kept their position until backup arrived.
"Bullets and heavy machine-gun fire ricocheting across the rocks. Rocket-propelled grenades raining down. Fire so intense that weapons were shot right out of their hands," Obama said, explaining the battle to a packed audience at the White House. "Within minutes, one soldier was killed, another was wounded. Everyone dove for cover, behind a tree, a rock, a stone wall."
One of Monti's men, Pvt. Brian Bradbury of St. Joseph, Mo., was shot during the encounter.
"Jared Monti did something no amount of training can instill. His patrol leader said he'd go, but Jared said, 'No, he is my soldier. I'm going to get him,'" Obama recounted.
"Said his patrol leader, it 'was the bravest thing I had ever seen a soldier do,'" Obama continued.
On his third attempt, Monti was struck by a grenade and died on the field. Three others, including Bradbury, also died during the fight.
Monti's final words were clear and calm: "I've made peace with God. Tell my family that I love them."
Nine soldiers who survived that day's attack attended Thursday's ceremony, along with Monti's sister, brother, grandmother and niece, and three previous Medal of Honor recipients. Also in the East Room were Defense Secretary Robert Gates and Adm. Mike Mullen, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff.
Tribute is planned for slain soldiers
About 50 children of U.S. troops killed in Iraq and Afghanistan will be given a medal by the Joint Chiefs chairman, Adm. Mike Mullen, at a Capitol Hill remembrance ceremony honoring the slain fighters and their families. In all, an estimated 3,000 family members are expected to attend the Sept. 26 tribute sponsored by the White House Commission on Remembrance, an independent government organization. For more information, go to www.remember.gov.