Different Wars, Same Reaction: Grenade-Throwing Heroes

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Leroy Petry

Mike Weisskopf

The White House has announced that Army Staff Sergeant Leroy A. Petry is the second living post-9/11 Medal of Honor recipient (seven others have been awarded posthumously). President Obama is slated to bestow the light-blue-beribboned medal — the nation’s highest — at the White House on July 12. Petry earned the honor for what the citation calls intrepidity — what a great word — meaning bravery and courage. It happened on May 26, 2008, in Paktia Province, Afghanistan, when an enemy hand grenade was tossed close to Petry and two fellow soldiers. A Pentagon statement says what happened next:

Recognizing the threat that the enemy grenade posed to his fellow Rangers, Petry — despite his own wounds and with complete disregard for his personal safety — consciously and deliberately risked his life to move to and secure the live enemy grenade and throw it away from his fellow Rangers, according to battlefield reports. As Petry released the grenade in the direction of the enemy, preventing the serious injury or death of Higgins and Robinson, it detonated and amputated his right hand.

Sounds a lot like our former Time colleague, Michael Weisskopf, who was in Baghdad, Iraq, on Dec. 10, 2003, when a hand grenade landed in a Humvee that he, Time photographer Jim Nachtwey, and four soldiers were aboard. His action almost certainly saved several lives. He lost his right hand in the process, as well. As Mike recounted in the pages of Time:

I gazed down and spotted an object on the wooden bench 2 ft. away…I rose halfway, leaned to the right, and cupped the object. I might as well have plucked volcanic lava from a crater. I could feel the flesh of my palm liquefying. Pain bolted up my arm like an electric current. In one fluid motion, I raised my right arm and started to throw the mass over the side of the vehicle, a short backhand toss. Then everything went dark.

I saw Mike just the other night. He’s doing fine, tending to his real-estate business in Washington, D.C. He’s enjoying a calmer life these days with his wife, Rebekah, and kids Mara, Olivia and Skyler (one fewer than Petry and his wife, Ashley, have: Austin, Brittany, Landon and Reagan). I know he joins me in saying to Staff Sergeant Petry, who remains in the Army as part of a headquarters unit: Hooah!