Three Afghanistan veterans whose battlefield bravery earned them the nation’s highest military honor received new recognition Wednesday when their names were unveiled on the Washington state Capitol’s Medal of Honor monument.
Their names were the first added to the 11-foot-tall stone obelisk in Olympia since 2007, and the first from the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.
Medal of Honor recipients Capt. William Swenson of Seattle, Sgt. 1st Class Leroy Petry of Steilacoom, Wash., and Staff Sgt. Ty Carter of Yelm, Wash., sought to turn the attention from their own accomplishments to the service of fellow veterans.
“We represent all servicemembers,” said Swenson, who received his medal last year. “We represent what every soldier, sailor, airman and Marine is capable of.”
The three men are part of an exceptionally elite group among the 2.6 million people who served in the recent wars. Only six living military servicemembers have received the medal for heroism in Afghanistan.
They describe themselves as ordinary soldiers who fought through extreme circumstances to protect fellow troops and return to their families.
“You’re just great Americans who did what had to be done,” said Maj. Gen. Terry Ferrell, commander of Joint Base Lewis-McChord’s 7th Infantry Division. “It was not for self. It was for your buddy. It was for those on your left and right.”
Petry received his medal in July 2011 recognizing the conspicuous gallantry he showed three years earlier in a shootout as part of Lewis-McChord’s 2nd Battalion, 75th Ranger Regiment.
He lost his right hand while throwing an enemy grenade away from himself and fellow wounded Rangers. His battalion is on its way to its 17th combat deployment since 2001.
“I would just love to be in my unit today … to be a part of something that great,” Petry said.
Carter now serves in the 7th Infantry Division. He received a Medal of Honor last year recognizing his role in an October 2009 attack on a combat outpost in which Afghan insurgents penetrated the base’s defenses and killed eight U.S. soldiers.
Carter uses the platform that comes with his Medal of Honor to talk about post-traumatic stress.
His openness attracts other veterans and military family members to him with their own stories of loss. Carter tries to guide them to help.
“I find a lot of purpose educating the American public about the unseen wounds of war,” he said.
Swenson received his medal last year recognizing his selfless efforts during a six-hour battle in September 2009 protecting a group of ambushed Marines and Afghan soldiers.
He kept his brief remarks centered on other veterans, saying any of them would strive to rescue wounded comrades.
“Every servicemember I have ever interacted with goes beyond what it takes,” he said.
The two-hour ceremony had a celebratory feel with an Army band and color guard, and a series of short speeches recognizing the recipients.
“This is one of those days I really miss wearing the uniform,” said state Department of Veterans Affairs Director Lourdes Alvaro-Ramos. “We’re just so honored to have these men here.”
The medal recipients have met President Barack Obama, been feted at national sporting events and sat down to talk with late-night TV hosts. Because they are some of the few recent veterans with household names, they also go on tours to motivate troops and educate civilians about military service.
It’s a unique burden, said retired Air Force Col. Joe Jackson, who received a Medal of Honor for his heroism in Vietnam.
“They now represent all services, and it’s really tough to continue to represent all services,” said Jackson, 91, of Kent. “They are special people.”