Brave sergeant to join ranks of nation's Medal of Honor recipients

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Last week it was announced that Army Sgt. 1st Class Leroy Arthur Petry would soon receive the Medal of Honor. Although there have been nine recipients of this award from the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, Petry is only the second to have survived the combat action that earned him America's highest award for combat heroism.

As the secretary of the Congressional Medal of Honor Foundation, I am delighted that we now have two young men (Petry and Staff Sgt. Salvatore Giunta) who will, for many decades, join their fellow recipients in preserving the legacy of this iconic award.

The Medal of Honor is awarded to members of the Armed Forces who distinguish themselves conspicuously by gallantry and intrepidity above and beyond the call of duty.

The meritorious conduct must involve great personal bravery or self-sacrifice so conspicuous as to clearly distinguish the individual above his or her comrades and must have involved risk of life. There must be incontestable proof of the performance of the meritorious conduct, and each recommendation for the award must be considered on the standard of extraordinary merit.

During the combat action, Petry was shot through both legs. Fighting off the pain, he continued to engage a determined and aggressive enemy in an intense firefight. A live enemy grenade landed near two of Petry's fellow soldiers. Rather than diving for cover, Petry, ignoring his wounds, grabbed the grenade and tossed it away in order to protect his comrades-in-arms. As the grenade was leaving his hand, it exploded, blowing off Petry's right hand and causing other injuries. His quick and heroic action prevented the injury and possible death of his two buddies.

AS WE REFLECT on the extraordinary valor of this warrior -- he has had two combat tours in Iraq and six in Afghanistan -- it may be useful to look beyond Petry's combat action and examine the lives of his fellow recipients.

Many of these men, who have already given so much to America, are now devoting their lives to educate and inspire the youth of America. These humble heroes are very excited about being able to educate America's youth and to have an impact on the positive development of their character.

Four years ago, the General Electric Foundation gave a grant of $100,000 to the Congressional Medal of Honor Foundation. This relatively young foundation -- it was born in 1999 -- was created to further the legacy of the Medal of Honor.

This General Electric grant created a magic moment for the foundation and for America. It had a very specific purpose -- to incorporate the ideals of courage and selfless service into the curricula of middle schools and high school across America. The purpose was simple -- to build character and promote responsible citizenship among tens of millions of American children, many of whom are in need of positive role models.

This flexible education program has been fully tested and is now ready for prime time. Short videos of the Medal of Honor recipients, together with carefully crafted lesson plans and study guides make for a very powerful program. Initial feedback from students and teachers has been very positive.

HIGHLIGHTS OF the program can be found on the Congressional Medal of Honor Foundation's website, www.cmohfoundation.org. When you get to the site, click on "Initiatives," then click on "Character Development Program" for middle- and high-school students. Anyone with questions should feel free to contact me directly at genpsmith@aol.com, or (706) 399-9754.

Interested in meeting and visiting with a Medal of Honor recipient? Every year a recipient comes to Augusta to be the honored guest at a Boy Scout event just before Veterans Day. On Nov. 2 Joe Marm will be with us. Please contact the Boy Scout office at (706) 733-5277.

The earlier you make your reservations for the dinner, the better your seating location will be. I have already ordered my table and plan to invite both friends and wounded warriors to sit with me. Please feel free to follow my lead.

Would you like to assist the Congressional Medal of Honor Foundation in its important mission? I suggest you purchase some of the Congressional Medal of Honor Commemorative Coins. You will have four choices. I recommend either the proof gold coins or the proof silver coins. Proof coins are the finest quality of coin produced by the U.S. Mint. The coins are purchased from the U.S. Mint. Order online at www.usmint.gov/catalog or by calling the U.S. Mint at (800) USA-MINT (872-6468). Recently, I ordered a bunch of proof silver coins. They will make great gifts.

(The writer -- a retired U.S. Air Force major general -- is the president of the board of trustees of the Augusta Museum of History, and secretary of the Congressional Medal of Honor Foundation.)


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