By LEO SHANE III | STARS AND STRIPES Published: May 24, 2012
Sgt. 1st Class Leroy Petry felt that honoring just one of his fallen comrades wasn’t enough.
So he had a plaque bearing the names of 19 fallen soldiers — all of the men from the 2nd Battalion, 75th Ranger Regiment who have been killed in combat over the last 30 years — bolted to his right arm instead.
“I carry them all, because they’re all part of my family,” he said. “And I have a little more real estate on my arm to work with than most people.”
Petry lost his right hand and forearm to injuries suffered in a Memorial Day firefight four years ago, when he saved two soldiers by tossing away an enemy grenade that had landed nearby.
He received the Medal of Honor for his sacrifice, and used his new prosthetic arm, with plaque attached, to shake the president’s hand at the award ceremony.
His wounds weren’t even his most painful loss of the day. One of Petry’s men — Spc. Christopher Gathercole, name No. 13 on the plaque — was killed in that battle. Petry said he shared a connection with most of the other 14 Rangers from the battalion killed in Iraq and Afghanistan, and knows the stories of the ones who died in earlier fights.
“They’re part of me. Every time I put on the arm in the morning, I see them there,” Petry said. “I wanted to get them all on there, because each loss needs to be remembered.”
The black and gold plaque — Ranger colors, Petry points out — is the second version that he has mounted onto his arm. He added more names late last year, following the deaths of four Rangers in Afghanistan.
Even so, the new memorial plate is already battered and scratched, worn from the hectic schedule Petry keeps. He remained on active duty following his recovery and now works as a wounded warrior liaison officer for Special Operations Command, making frequent trips to speak with troops and veterans about his experiences.
Many of the servicemembers he meets are struck by the plaque.
“There’s hardly a unit out there today that hasn’t lost somebody,” he said. “They get it. You never forget. You always try to remember the fallen, and embrace the living.”