Medal of Honor recipient Petry honored with statue in hometown
By ROBERT NOTT | The Santa Fe New Mexican | Published: June 25, 2013
SANTA FE, N.M. — After parachuting onto the field next to the Fort Marcy Recreation Complex on Monday morning, Sgt. First Class Leroy Petry said there’s no better way to see the American flag flying in the wind than to watch one floating to earth while attached to a parachutist.
The Santa Fe native and Medal of Honor recipient made his entrance into the downtown area at about 8:20 a.m., dropping from the sky along with retired U.S. Army Special Forces Sgt. John Hart, retired U.S. Navy SEAL Jim Woods and retired U.S. Special Forces Sgt. 1st Class Dana Bowman.
Later in the morning, during an hourlong event honoring Petry’s military achievements, dignitaries unveiled a bronze statue of Petry titled Hometown Hero, created by Pojoaque Pueblo Gov. George Rivera.
Petry had set up the parachute jump with Bowman, who lost both legs in a parachuting-training exercise in Arizona in 1994. Bowman, who wears prosthetic legs, landed with a large banner of an American Flag tailing from his parachute.
Petry called the action “a great way to represent military service and all veterans.” As he made the jump from a small plane at about 10,000 feet above the field, Petry said, “Coming down, seeing all the people below, seeing our city, was pretty amazing.”
Petry, born in Santa Fe in July 1979, joined the Army in 1999. He lost his right hand during action in Paktia province, Afghanistan, in May 2008 while trying to throw away an enemy grade that landed between him and two fellow soldiers. The grenade exploded as Petry, who had already been wounded in the legs by enemy fire, was throwing it.
President Barack Obama presented the Medal of Honor to Petry at a White House ceremony in July 2011. Petry also is the recipient of two Bronze Stars, a Purple Heart and a number of other military awards and medals. He and his family now live in Steilacoom, Wash.
About 200 people attended Monday’s event at Fort Marcy Park, including Petry’s wife, Ashley, and three of their children. Daughter Reagan, 15, said it was important for the family to be together “to make history for my dad.” Ashley and the couple’s 19-year-old son, Austin, said they’d actually like to take part in some parachute training so they could make future jumps with Petry.
Petry’s father, Larry, was in attendance. The younger Petry said he was raised well and he spoke respectfully of his late grandfather, Leo, who served in the Air Force. During the City Hall ceremony, Petry said he made the parachute jump for his grandfather as well.
Petry got a laugh when, following a string of speeches by dignitaries including Gov. Susana Martinez, Mayor David Coss and state Veterans’ Affairs Cabinet Secretary Timothy Hale, he told the crowd that Roman statesman Julius Caesar reportedly complained that public speeches were too long. “I think that’s why they stabbed him,” Petry said, “so I’ll try to keep it short.”
Petry said Rivera’s statue of him isn’t about an individual but about what the military represents. “I’ll always be a Santa Fean,” he said. “Santa Fe will always be a part of me. I guess now I’ll always be a part of it.”
Ron Lucas, mayor of Steilacoom, made his first trip to Santa Fe to honor Petry on Monday. He said Steilacoom dedicated a street — Sgt. First Class Leroy Petry Medal of Honor Way — to Petry, who has lived in Steilacoom for about 10 years. He said Petry, who still serves with the Army, continues to be involved with veterans’ organizations, including the Wounded Warrior Project, which works to provide services for disabled vets and help them adjust to civilian life.
Among the other spectators Monday were several children, including Austin Wilson, 12, and siblings Kaylen, 11, and Tyler, 8. They watched in awe as Petry and the other parachutists circled over the Fort Marcy field before coming in to land from the north side of the field, narrowly missing the tops of some trees.
Tyler, who said he wants to join the Marines when he grows up, called the entire affair “crazy, cool.” Kaylen said it was exciting to see the American flag banner that Petry had attached to his chute. Austin said it was important for community members to support military veterans because “they fought to save us.”
The children in attendance at the parachute landings immediately surrounded both Petry and Bowman. Bowman told the youngsters that others may see him as having a disability, but “I don’t consider myself disabled.” He urged them to overcome any such obstacles and pursue active lives.
According to New Mexico’s Department of Veterans’ Affairs, Petry is the 14th New Mexican veteran to receive the Medal of Honor and the only Santa Fean. During his public comments, Hale said Petry “represents the best of America” and said Rivera’s statue is a tribute to “every soldier, every airman, every sailor and every marine who has served to protect this great nation.”
Petry will be honored again at a 10:30 a.m. ceremony Tuesday, June 25, at the South Meadows Bridge over the Santa Fe River, which county officials will dedicate as the “Sgt. First Class Leroy Arthur Petry Bridge.” Access to the bridge will be closed from 9 a.m. to noon at both access points: Agua Fría Road at South Meadows and N.M. 599 at South Meadows.