The grenade landed behind Army St. Sgt. Leroy A. Petry, who was on a mission searching for a Taliban leader in Paktya Province, Afghanistan.
Already bleeding from being shot in the legs, Petry picked up the deadly device to keep it from killing his men, who were crouching with him behind a wall for cover. It was May 26, 2008.
“I threw it with all my force of my right arm,” he said Wednesday afternoon in a ceremony at the Special Operations Memorial at MacDill Air Force Base. “As soon as my hand opened up, the grenade exploded. I sat back up and my hand was completely gone at the wrist, like it had been severed with a circular saw.”
Speaking moments after the unveiling of his name etched on the black granite wall honoring Medal of Honor recipients, Petry, 33, said he was “humbled.”
He was one of two Medal of Honor recipients honored at the ceremony on a chilly afternoon. Army St. Sgt. Robert Miller, awarded a Medal of Honor after braving withering enemy fire to save his men, was killed in action Jan. 25, 2008, after crawling through the snow, repeatedly firing at well-protected insurgent positions in the Gowardesh Valley.
Miller, 24 when he was killed, was represented at the ceremony by his parents, Phil and Maureen Miller, and his sisters, Therese and Patricia.
“For me, it was an honor to be with the Millers,” said Petry, now a sergeant first class assigned to Socom’s Care Coalition. “I am still here with my family. They don’t have him anymore.”
The names of Petry and Miller joined 37 other Medal of Honor recipients on a black granite wall at the Special Operations Memorial. All told, the names of nearly 1,000 special operations forces members who have died in combat are etched on the walls of the spear-shaped memorial.
More than 700 of those have been killed since 9/11, according to Geoff Barker, president of the private memorial’s site operations.
Petry and Miller took “their rightful place among their … brothers who have received our nation’s highest award for valor in combat,” said Adm. William McRaven, commander of U.S. Special Operations Command, in a speech before the unveiling. “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 Miller family declined comment, but Tech. Sgt. Robert Gutierrez, an Air Force Special Operations Command combat controller, was there the day Miller was killed and talked of a man he called a good friend. He spoke to an audience of about 150 that included much of the Socom leadership, as well as Medal of Honor recipient Gary Lee Littrell and Carlos Del Castillo, father of 1st Lt. Dimitri Del Castillo, who was killed in Afghanistan nearly two years ago.
As a combat controller, Gutierrez would join special operations groups and help call in air strikes during missions. He joked about how Miller took him under his wing at Operational Detachment Alpha 3312.
“Anytime I spoke in Air Force jargon, Robbie would say, ‘Well, I’m the Green Beret,’” said Gutierrez.
After watching Miller draw enemy fire away from the rest of his detachment, saving the lives of seven members of his own team and 15 Afghan soldiers, Gutierrez said, he rushed up to see his friend take his last breath.
Miller was doing his job to the end, showing his men where the enemy was hidden.
“He was pointing out on his back, ‘They are right there,’” Gutierrez said.