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A U.S. Veteran Reflects on the Meaning of Memorial Day

Retired United States Master Sergeant Leroy A. Petry unplugs and recharges his robotic arm every night. In the morning, when putting on his prosthetic, Petry looks at the names of fellow soldiers engraved on his metal forearm. The soldiers were killed while serving with him in the U.S. Army.

“I try to look at those people who lost their lives and didn’t get one more second on this planet or with their families,” Petry says. “Every day I wake up, open my eyes, and breathe air into my lungs, I know I’m blessed with another opportunity to do something positively impacting somebody else.”

I spoke with Petry last fall, when he was honored at a ceremony in San Diego, California. The former U.S. Army Ranger said that Memorial Day, which is celebrated on the last Monday of May, presents an opportunity for all Americans to honor the sacrifices of military personnel who died while serving their country.

For Petry, the day holds a special significance. On Memorial Day in 2008, he was wounded while serving in Afghanistan. During a rare daylight mission with the Rangers, the Amy’s elite force, Petry was shot in both legs. Despite his injuries, he continued to protect his fellow Rangers when an enemy grenade landed nearby. Petry grabbed the weapon and tossed it away from his comrades. In the explosion that followed, Petry lost his right hand. Still, he was able to provide his own medical support while keeping his team safe. 

"Memorial Day is especially important to me,” Petry said, “not only because of the remembrance of those we’ve lost who have given the ultimate sacrifice, but it’s also the day . . . I got injured.”


Quade with retired Master Sergeant Leroy A. Petry aboard the USS Midway in San Diego, California 


Petry’s actions in Afghanistan saved fellow Army Rangers from severe injury and even death. For his heroism, he was awarded the Medal of Honor (MOH) in 2011. Given by the President in the name of Congress, the MOH is the country’s highest military decoration. It recognizes bravery in combat above and beyond the call of duty.  

At the end of my interview with Petry, he gave me a Medal of Honor Society Challenge Coin. The medallion is engraved with his name, the MOH symbol, the date he was wounded, and the Army Ranger insignia.

“Our heroes are all around us,” Petry said. “You’ve just got to find them.”


Petry receives the Medal of Honor from President Barack Obama in 2011. 


Top photo: Jedediah Woods; bottom photo: U.S. Army