Okay, you or here? Interviewer: I want you to look at me, and don’t look at your colleagues here, because that’ll throw everything off, so–and don’t look at the camera either. We’ll be fine just like this. SFC L. Petry: Okay. Todd Brewster: So Sergeant, spell your name in its entirety for the transcriber, please. SFC L. Petry: Sergeant First Class Leroy, L-E-R-O-Y, A. Petry, P-E-T-R-Y.
And today is September 9, 2011, and we’re at the studios of the West Point Center for Oral History. I thank you very much for coming and being a part of this archive that we’re building here. You are a winner of the Medal of Honor.
It’s awarded, not won, sir.
You’re awarded the Medal of Honor.
Good catch. Can you tell me the story through which you were awarded that?
We were executing a daylight raid in–
Who is “we” when you say this?
Second Ranger Battalion, Delta Company. We were executing a daylight raid, and during the raid I was shot through both my legs. A couple of my wounded junior Rangers were next to me.
Interviewer: Let’s back you up a little bit, actually, before we even start on that. You were–the raid–how much anticipation did you have of the raid?
How much anticipation did you have of the raid? How much planning was there for the raid?
It wasn’t–it wasn’t a whole lot. I mean we kind of knew we were going, but it was an immediate kind of reaction, quick reaction to the assault, so–
What was the mission of the raid, of this particular raid?
It was to capture or kill a high-value target, sir.
And did you know who that high-value target was before you went to this–on the raid?
You did. And you’re not able to admit that today, who that high-value target was?
Okay. So how large a group were you with at this point, then?
Approximately about 60-plus, sir.
And what was the nature of the mission? Can you tell me the outline of the mission?
It was–we were going into a compound, assaulting a compound. And then capture and kill, basically, capture if possible. I mean that’s always the best scenario. But–
And you anticipated this time?
Normally with a high-value target, you–they’re expected to have a personal security detail with them that’s armed and, you know, protect them to the end of their life, so.
That’s what I say, so how many did you expect were going to be there around this high-value target?
I can’t remember exactly what the number that was told to us, but it was–I want to say it was about 25 or so, sir.
And why during the daytime? I would think most of a raid like this would’ve been during the nighttime.
Because the high-value target we were going for at the time bounced around, I guess, a lot. And when he popped up, we had to take the opportunity to go and try and snatch him up, sir.
So to speak.
I see. So then take me back to the story. So you arrive at the compound. Roughly, what time of day was this, then?
It was I want to say about 10
Was the contact coming from the compound?
No. It was out in the–a field right next to the compound. There was multiple little compounds out there–remote kind of rural area. But I noticed one of our younger squad leaders, his squad moving into the building, I immediately went with him. I was the last person to enter the courtyard. At that point, they were clearing a building in the corner of the courtyard. I had waited at the door and asked for more support from another Ranger to come back, clear the courtyard. And soon as I got a tap on my shoulder that I had PFC Robinson by me, we started to move.
And immediately, once we crossed into one of the corners, two enemy combatants with AK-47s at their hips are just spraying sporadically. I caught one round in my left thigh, and PFC Robinson had caught one in his left ribcage, right below his armpit, and–
Were you felled by these? Did you–
No, it was a kind of a–kind of did a little buck, like a deer getting shot, and immediately moved to cover behind what they called a chicken coop–a smaller building inside the walled compound.
Was it really a chicken coop?
It was–I don’t think it was a chicken coop. I think–
Just what they call it, you mean. Yeah.
Yeah, that’s just what they call it, because it wasn’t–didn’t look like really big enough to house a lot of people. But the name stuck–once they went with “chicken coop,” it stuck, so that’s what we call it from now on, I guess. And PFC Robinson followed right behind me. We ran behind cover, still taking a high volume of fire from our right flank, and I start telling him, “Hey, start doing self-aid and let me know how hurt you are,” and–
What is self-aid?
Basically, if you’re conscious and coherent and you see that you’re wounded, it’s easier for you to take care of yourself than taking another person out of the fight to come take care of you. So when you’re behind cover, you have the opportunity to self-treat yourself, and we get extensive treating–extensive training in treatment, medical treatment in the Range regiments, so most holes, we’re able to plug, so to speak. And I’m calling up on the radio at this point, talking to my command, giving them situational awareness of what’s going on–that we have wounded personnel and we’re still in heavy contact.
I prepped a thermo baric grenade. I threw it over the chicken coop toward the enemy that was back there. It went off. At the same time that went off, Sergeant Higgins, another Ranger, moved to our position, and I told him immediately, “Start working with Robinson, security, and start doing buddy aid,” which is once you get the time and you’re afforded–the buddies start coming doing your aid for you. At that point, I–
How close is the enemy at this point, when you’re throwing this grenade? This is how far?
Oh, probably about within 15 feet.
And so we’re sitting–we’re–at this point, I sit down, because my legs are just sore, and I’m kind of wanting to look at how bad the wound is on my left leg. And I’m pulling security with my rifle to my left, to make sure nobody comes around the left side of the building. Well, as I’m sitting there we hear a huge blast, which knocks the two next to me kind of to the ground and gives them a little bit of shrapnel. It was a grenade.
They turned to me right away and said, “What the was that?”
And I say, “Well, they’re–keep your heads down. They’re throwing grenades. Keep security.” And then we’re still taking high volumes of small arms fire.
What kind of grenades are these that they’re throwing?
Well, the one I picked up later on, it was a–it looked like a pineapple grenade.
Old-fashioned, then, for–
And so I’m sitting there, and telling them to keep security and stuff. I turn to my left to watch my corner, and as I turn back to my right to look at my guys, there’s a–one of the pineapple grenades sitting there on the ground, and immediately I realized it was a threat to their lives and to mine, and I reached over and grabbed it. And as I was throwing it away, I opened my hand, and as soon as my hand opened it just exploded and took the hand with it. And I sat up, and I looked at the explosion, what damage it had done.
And it was completely severed at the wrist, like a circular saw had taken it across it and left nothing of the hand. I knew–I grabbed it. Kind of strange, but the first thought that went into my mind was, “Why isn’t this thing spraying after it hit arteries?” It’s–but immediately, remember a vivid picture in my mind where I can almost smell the burnt flesh and the powder, and I could see rock and debris and the color, the bright, bright and dark. It was bright and dark red blood all over the place, oozing pretty–pretty fast.
And lack of better words, a skirt of meat where the skin had folded back around the wrist, and the radius and the ulna poking up about a quarter-inch each, just broken off, sheared. And I sat there–I soaked it all up, and it seemed like a while, but it was seconds. And it’s almost like it goes in slow motion, where you’re like, “Wow,” and you realize it, and then all of a sudden it starts going back into high speed, and like, “Oh, man, now I know what I got to do.” Grabbed a tourniquet off my kit, which we keep on our outside for fast access, and immediately applied a tourniquet with my left hand. Got back on the radio, started giving my command situational update.
“Hey, we’re still in contact,” what-not. And it felt kind of weird–at the end of the transmission on the radio, the last thing I remember telling my platoon sergeant was, “And I also lost my right hand.” And I let go of the mic and then it hit, dawned on me, that probably sounded crazy on the other end of the radio. “What do you mean, you lost your hand?” But the other guys are still? At this point, I’m concerned about them. I’m surprised I’m so conscious and calm about it. I’m concerned about them, where I could only imagine what they’re going through in their minds after they saw me blow my hand off. They got a little bit of shrapnel all over them. And–
It sounds like you did not go into any shock, though, right? You were?
No. No, I didn’t go into any shock at all.
I don’t know why. I mean one of our First Sergeants had come up to us shortly thereafter. He reached down and he grabbed me by the kit on my left side in an attempt to pick me up and say, “Hey, come on, we’re going to get you out of here.”
And I kind of pushed his hand away and said, “You’re not taking me anywhere till you get those two SOBs behind the chicken coop.” And he said, “Well, where are they at?” And I said, “Well, they’re right back there in that back corner.” He realized that I was coherent and that we always fight the fight and come back for casualties. And so he made the decision, hey, we’re coming back for you. He said, “We’ll be right back for you.” At that point, he left.
I ended up waiting a few more minutes. I ended up grabbing onto Sergeant Higgins and my Platoon Sergeant, Sergeant Stile, and we–we ended up running over to our casualty collection point, where that’s–and I started noticing how many casualties we had, and our medics were working on them.
And our medic came up and ran to me and said, “Hey, sit down. We need to start working on you.”
And I said, “Hey, I’m good.” I said, “Fix these guys first. I’m still coherent. I’m fine.” They’re like, “Well, have a seat, at least.” At that point, I sat down. The mind wanted to keep going, but the body was losing a lot of juice. They immediately started cutting off my boots, and I was like, “Well, that decision’s made for me.” And they cut off my pants, and that’s when I noticed, when they were putting on the tourniquets on my legs, that the bullet that I had gotten shot in my left thigh had not only–I thought it was only lodged my left thigh.
It had gone through my entire left thigh into my right thigh and out the other side. And I couldn’t–I still to this day can’t believe that that bullet–it was a 762, AK-47, big bullet–did not pierce or nick any of my arteries, did not touch the bone, and it was through-and-through, all muscle and tissue. And so knowing how big the arteries in the thigh are that run down there, it’s amazing. And I’m thankful for that every day. At the same point, we had Sergeant Roberts and Specialist Gaithercole that had come out of that same building that we were in inside that compound, where the casualty collection point was.
They had come out to support us. I didn’t know about this till afterwards, but while–while they were coming out to support us, they were on the corner and they started taking fire from the two combatants behind the building. And then I guess there was a third on the forward side of the building that had shot and hit Specialist Gaithercole just below his helmet. And he succumbed to his wounds later that day and paid the ultimate sacrifice, and one of the true heroes on that mission–still think about it a lot. When we were getting medevac’d, first time ever getting shot, first time, I guess, being traumatically injured.
They got me in a stretcher and I remember holding it up. They had it wrapped in a bunch of gauze, tourniquet still on there, they’re telling me to hold it up, keep the blood flow. And the guys were carrying me out to the HLZ, and as–on the way to the HLZ, other Rangers were running up and saying, “Hey, you’re going to be all right. You’re going to be all right.” And I remember my thoughts at that point were, “Get away from me. Go pull–go do your job and pull security,” and that’s actually what I told them was, “Hey, keep pulling security,” ’cause at that point I knew the fight wasn’t over.
I mean the fight’s never over until everyone’s back at the forward operating base. So I said, “Hey, keep pulling security. Get away from me. I’ll see you later.” And we got up there, and I remember Sergeant Higgins coming up to me and saying, “You saved us. You saved us.” And I was like, “Oh, hey, men, we’re all in it together. Let’s just get out of here.” And I wanted to stay so bad, ’cause I knew that they were still going to have quite a fight ahead of them that afternoon. When we–they flew us back in the helicopter to a dirt airfield where they kind of took us off the airfield and they sat us down on these stretchers.
And I remember them saying that the helicopter had to go back and support the mission, and a fixed-wing, meaning the medevac airplane, was about 30 minutes out. And right away I was like, “Oh, man. I just survived all that to sit here for 30 minutes and probably die on this airfield.” But then rebuilt my confidence seeing my two unit PAs, which I knew very well–Major Slevin and Captain Domingus–there working on the casualties. So they were coming over and treating us, and I was like, “Oh, I’m good–I’m with these guys. They’re going to take care of me.”
They had given me a couple fentanyl pops. Well, I’d always heard about fentanyl pops, and I’m thinking I’d never seen them. Just one of those things docs always talk about. You joke with the doc, “Hey, let me get one of them fentanyl pops.” I’m thinking it’s either a–some kind of sucker that they’ve put drugs in, so when they gave them to me, they were these two little white sticks that had like a candy kind of dipping stick, the little dipsticks with the powdered sugar. They’re like that on the end, and so they hand them to me and he turns around, and I take them and I bite off the ends and I throw the plastic container away.
And he turns around and he looks at me, and I’m done chewing on them, and he’s like, “What’d you do with the fentanyl pops I gave you?” And I was like, “I took them already.” And, “What’d you do with them?” “I threw them away.” And he said–he kind of smacked me, and he said, “You idiot. You’re supposed to suck on them. That’s the only way you get the medication out of them.” So I guess it comes out of the bottom through the candy portion.
Let me back you up, because you were in a moment of extraordinary challenge, and you behaved in a way that academies like this teach soldiers to behave, but you don’t know until you’re under those circumstances whether you will. Will you risk your own life for those who are next to you? Will you stay focused on the mission? Will you stay loyal to your comrades there? Did you surprise yourself for what you did in that moment?
SFC L. Petry: Not at all. I look at all my Ranger family as my brothers. I look at it like my wife or one of my children being there, and I’d do anything for them. It’s the same thing I would hope that you would have done for yourself. I mean you do everything for each other, and when it’s out there, it’s all or nothing.
What about the mission itself? How did it end? Was your high-value target there?
SFC L. Petry: I don’t know the whole outcomes to it. I know that they definitely got a lot of good feedback from it, and I didn’t dig too much into the details of the follow-on, ’cause at that point it was another eight, nine months for my rehab before I started really getting back with the guys and hearing stories. I had done a lot of my rehab down in San Antonio, which was away from the base, and there was a lot of shifting of personnel at that point. And I got little bits and stories from different people here and there about how–they said the mission was great. They still had a lot more contact that day, and they got a lot of good intel off the target as well.
How many deployments did you have in Iraq and Afghanistan?
Up to that point?
And since then. Tell me about that.
Well, a total of eight–two to Iraq and six to Afghanistan. That was my fifth to Afghanistan at the point where I got injured, sir.
And your first deployment to Afghanistan was when, then? 2002?
Mm-hmm. Where were you on 911?
I was Pre-Ranger, down at Fort Benning, Georgia, in 75th Ranger Regiments Pre-Ranger, now called CRT, where I was–I was out in the field. I remember Cole Range is where they do a lot of that. And we were training. It was hot, and they were–a lot of the instructors were watching it on television. They had a television out there, and they’re kind of telling us about what’s going on with New York, the Twin Towers, World Trade Center.
And we all expressed concern and interest, and we were asking if we could go watch, and they tell us, “No, you need to get your butts back out there and keep training. You might be going to war soon.” Little did they know, and us, how right they were, ’cause not more than a year later, we were back out there.
What was your personal reaction to 911?
It was grief, sadness for the families and friends of all those who lost someone that day, and a little bit of anger at who could do something like this to us. And it kind of put in perspective a little bit about–911 kind of put in perspective what it must’ve been like for those people who lived through Pearl Harbor times. And just it was a sucker punch to the United States, and I felt it, too. It was–I couldn’t believe that something like that would happen, and just a lot of sorrow for the loss of life.
Now, when you first enlisted, it was a peacetime Army, correct?
When was that? What year?
1999, September, sir.
What motivated you to want to go into the Army?
I wanted to be in the Army since I was a little kid, playing with my brothers, playing Army, watching Desert Storm, Desert Shield, develop. Seeing pictures on the wall of family members that had served, in their uniforms, and I thought it was the most honorable thing you could do is go out there and fight for your country and our way of life.
So service has been?
Even if there is no fight.
I mean just to stand up and say, “Hey, if something pops up during my time while I’m in uniform, I will go.”
And so getting out of high school, I wanted to do that so much. My grandfather kind of told me, “Hey, go try college,” and I love my grandfather, and he had served in the Air Force. And I kind of tried his route for a little bit, and I had?I knew that it didn’t have my full interest.
So I said, “I got to get into the military first,” and immediately enlisted, and now I’m continuing my education and saying, “Yeah, it’s still an important thing,” even though that didn’t come first at the time. I’ve had a lot of fun and great experiences in the military, and I’ve been continuing my education even while serving in the military, so.
Why the Army, and not the Air Force or the Marines? What attracted you to the Army?
Well, the Rangers.
They’re the ones that are in the dirt, kicking down doors and doing all this stuff that I wanted to do. I didn’t want to–I didn’t want to–I hate to say it, but shoot artillery from far away. I wanted to be there, kicking down the doors and training to do the up-close-and-personal stuff, ’cause I think that’s one of the most challenging things for a person is to be there.
How much up-close-and-personal combat did you see before this episode?
Four other deployments. Hundreds of missions.
But nothing quite like this one, I think, in terms of the risk of life and violence.
Every time you’re overseas it’s a risk of life. Every time you leave the base it’s a risk of life overseas. I mean it’s–if I–countless times where bullet fire, standing by a wall and bullet fire just shoots dust all about six inches away from your head. I mean that’s–you tuck away and run behind cover, because you realize they could see you. That’s when it realizes that hey, there’s threats out there. Any time that I come overseas, I know that my life can be ended.
Do you remember the first time you felt that? The first deployment where you actually felt yourself to be a target?
I put that in my head my very first deployment, and I knew that the worst could come as soon as–before I even landed in-country, on the plane, I knew our plane could be shot down, so I knew the threat was there as soon as I set foot on that airplane. And I accepted any fate that laid before me. I’d give it my best, but if I couldn’t–if there was something that happened to me I couldn’t control, or one of my guys, then I would accept that. And it would be hard to live with, but it was something I’d signed up for, and I was willing to do.
Show me your hand–show me what the prosthetic device does here.
Now, yeah. It’s a–it’s got that cool feature. It’s designed to–it’s called the “iLimb Pulse,” and it’s actually a really nice prosthetic. I, when I lost my hand, I thought I was going to get a hook, and I was fine with a hook, ’cause I’d lost it in an honorable way, so I didn’t care. But they gave me one of these, and I was like, “Man, that’s like a new hand.” It does–I mean it works off the same muscles. I don’t have to think about trying to manipulate craziness.
Could you move individual fingers with it?
It does not have individual articulation, but it does have–when each finger meets resistance, it stops, so you have more dexterity to grab different shapes. So you have to move the thumb. They’re getting programmable, where you could hold different muscle sensors. So I could do a two-finger pinch, I could do a three-finger pinch.
Could you hold weight between the fingers? I mean, if–could you pick up a bag and hold that?
Yeah, I mean–
Well, for this, this is more for your little, tiny–
No, I mean is it weight-bearing, the whole hand, though, with it?
Oh, the whole hand? I could probably carry about two gallons of milk on there.
So whatever that weights–about 12 pounds, I guess.
So you can do a 360-degree turn on it, too–is that right?
Oh, yeah. Play a nasty game of “mercy.” [Laughter]
You have a young son, right?
I have four–four children.
How many boys, how many girls?
Two boys, two girls.
Girl, boy, girl, boy. Oldest is 20–she’ll be 21 here in a couple days–and 17-year-old boy who’s hoping on going to West Point, and I’m hoping he’s going to West Point; a 13-year-old daughter, and a 7-year-old son, who–the 7-year-old’s going to be a Ranger. I’m already convinced.
And you were telling me before we started on-camera that one of your kids loves to play with your hand at night. Is that right?
Yes. My 7-year-old. He thought it was the greatest thing, and when his friends would come over, he figured out how to manipulate the muscle sensors, and he’d tap them with his finger, “Check out my dad’s hand,” and make it open and close, and they loved it. But the other thing is with this is the hand actually is just one of the attachments you can put on there. There’s a easy–same rotation–you just add and take off.
What else would you put on there? What do you mean?
Well, the prosthesis and the doctors–well, mostly the–I think prosthesiologist?
It’s a good term even if it’s not the right one. [Laughs]
Yeah. They try to develop it for you. They say, “We want you to do anything you did before that you want to do. We’ll try to adapt it for you.” So I have a full set of cutlery knives, golf attachments, wrenches, sockets. There’s a thing to hold nails for nailing. A lot of tools, and I mean I’ve seen guys that have bow-release attachments. They’re still able to fire a bow.
Can they throw a knuckle curve?
Throw a mean right hook. [Laughter] But no, it’s a–
Now, were you right-handed?
I was, sir.
Yeah. So now you’re learning to do more with your left hand, also?
Yes. Well, we had always trained to shoot ambidextrous for around corners and stuff, and I used to always dislike it. I said, “Why would I want to shoot with my off-hand when I’m so much better with my right hand?” I was like, “I’ll lean out a little further.” And that day when I lost my hand, I was running out of there with my gun in my left hand, saying, “Thank goodness we were training to shoot left-handed.”
’Cause that’s what it came down to. But–
Have you had any dreams about the hand you lost?
No, not really.
Any dreams about that episode?
Not really. I mean I’ve–it’s always in my mind, ’cause seems like that’s all I really talk about these days, but…
But I don’t–I don’t–
Is there something that you wish you’d done in that moment that you didn’t do?
I joke around. I say I wish I would’ve grabbed it with my left hand, so I can still use my right hand. I have to learn how to re-write and do everything with my left hand, which—yeah, I thought about it. Tried throwing a baseball with my left hand, and I’m so glad I didn’t use my left hand. It’s not pretty, and it doesn’t go far. [Laughs] But no, I don’t regret anything, and I don’t think I would’ve changed anything else.
And what about anything else that happened in the mission in that? You lost men, right?
Yeah. Do you think back on any decision you made during that time that could’ve saved more lives?
I don’t try to look at it too much as to–I don’t want to live with any regrets of hey, this was his fault, or she could’ve done this, or I could’ve done this.
I look at it as the success of the–that who we do still have here, and I kind of tell a lot of people I honor those who pay the ultimate sacrifice and are the true heroes that gave their lives. But I embrace the ones that are still here, so–so I try to look at the positive thing. I don’t want to ever try to look back.
I try to learn from it and teach other people, “Hey, when you do this, you might not want to do this or that.” But I don’t want to ever try to regret any decisions that are made.
Let me ask you this as a last bit of questioning, then, because I think it’s central to the story that cadets and instructors here will want to hear from you. How can you teach and how can you learn this kind of leadership? I mean you demonstrated extraordinary leadership in this moment. How can instructors here teach cadets how you did that, and so they will do it?
Wow. I think it’s–I don’t think it’s something you can teach. It’s something that’s I want to say earned from each service member to another. When you get into your teams and you have such high respect for one another, both as leaders and as junior enlisted underneath you, or officers, whatever. And when you’re in that position and you’re out there in combat, you’re taking orders from your chain of command, but at the same time, I’m always looking out for the younger guys.
But the younger guys, in their hearts, are really looking out for all of us as well. And I’m sure the youngest guy would throw himself in front of that threat for that captain, that sergeant, that whatever rank. Rank doesn’t come to mind when there’s a threat. It’s, “Hey, do the right thing, and do what’s best for everyone.”
Let me try to extend that a little bit–
Not to be selfish in anything.
Mm-hmm. Let’s see if this works out. You’re saying in a sense, then, that leadership is about relationship. It’s really about the degree to which you have?
I think they’re tied into one.
They’re tied into one. I was telling a lot of people a lot of men will follow you because of the rank you wear, but they’ll respect you twice as much and work twice as hard for you if they respect you as a person. And respect your leadership, and you set the example for them.
Who did you respect most? Who are your heroes?
I got too many, sir.
Give me two.
You mentioned your grandfather before.
Yeah, my grandfather, who passed about a year before the ceremony at the White House–would’ve loved to have seen him there. Him, and anyone that stays in the military 20-plus, 30-plus years.
I mean those people have sacrificed their lives, pretty much, ’cause I know you don’t get a whole lot of time, being in the military, and to sacrifice that much–I mean how could you not call that a hero? I mean a lot of the generals, sergeant majors that spend their entire lives–and they have families during these lives, too.
It’s truly amazing–so the families as well. I mean it’s the hardest life I think that is out there. They’re constantly moving to different bases. It’s–those are my heroes. These professional athletes, they do three or four years and make millions of dollars, and then they’re off doing whatever–commercials or whatever. But the ones that dedicate their lives, almost in entirety, to the military, ’cause they’re the ones that usually put in that many years get out and still have their arm in the military’s side pocket, so to speak, and still working with the soldiers for the rest of their lives. And they look at it as the greatest time of their lives.
Thank you very much. I appreciate your coming by today.
|topics||Wartime Decisions Medal of Honor War on Terror Leadership Honor|
|unit||75th Ranger Regiment|
|specialty||Airborne Infantry (Special Operations)|