Ryan Pitts recites the nine names without pause. Abad, Ayers, Bogar. Brostrom, Garcia, Hovater. Phillips, Rainey, Zwilling. The 10 men are forever joined in history for their actions July 13, 2008, in the Battle of Wanat, one of the deadliest clashes for U.S. forces during the long war in Afghanistan.

Generations of valor

“Above and beyond the call of duty.” It’s at the heart of the Medal of Honor, the U.S. military’s highest award for valor. It applies to every hero, every war.

‘You really have no choice but to fight and to win the day’

Gunnery Sgt. Brian Jacklin and his teammates were surrounded on all sides, under heavy fire, and two of the Marines were bleeding out. The medevac choppers were five minutes away, and the Marines needed to blow a hole in the wall to leave the relative safety of their compound for an open field.

more Heroes news

‘That was the point where everything came together’

The wounded U.S. servicemember was not far from Kandahar in Afghanistan. Three others were with him, but they could not get the injured man to safety because of an insurgent ambush. Nearby U.S. Army soldiers could not engage the enemy, and a close-air support coordinator on the ground was panicked and inexperienced.

‘It was probably the worst fight, honestly’

U.S. Air Force Senior Airman Frank Troiano had two injured men with him, was taking fire from insurgents with a superior position and was trying to get out of a village in Afghanistan’s Tagab district.

‘Even the Special Forces guys called us crazy’

No U.S. forces had reached the area in eight years of war in Afghanistan. Marine Corps Cpl. Ethan Nagel, an embedded trainer, along with his platoon of Afghan National Army troops, another Marine trainer and a small Special Forces team, were moving up the Uzbin Valley to meet with village elders.

‘He would never leave a Marine behind’

The target was an expert bomb maker, suspected of killing numerous U.S. and NATO troops in western Afghanistan. As Staff Sgt. Andrew Seif and Sgt. Justin Hansen closed in on the enemy during a secret raid, the two Marines maneuvered to prevent the suspect’s escape.

When ‘normal training isn't going to work, you have to improvise’

The alarm sounds and the Coast Guard takes off, even when its rescue teams aren’t sure what lies ahead. Petty Officer 2nd Class Jonathan Kreske and three other crewmembers knew only that one man suffered a leg injury and another man might have been hurt when their MH-60T Jayhawk helicopter took off from San Diego around noon Jan. 18, 2013.

Sign Up for Daily Headlines

Sign up to receive a daily email of today's top military news stories from Stars and Stripes and top news outlets from around the world.

Sign Up Now