Americans are justly proud of all the men and women in uniform fighting to protect our freedoms. That's evident in the outpouring of public thanks shown during recognition days like Memorial Day, July 4th, and Veterans Day.

When it comes to valor in action against an enemy force, the highest award bestowed upon an individual serving in our Armed Services is the Medal of Honor.

There are now 85 living recipients. The latest is Sgt. 1st Class Leroy A. Petry, an Army Ranger who sacrificed heroically in Afghanistan three years ago. Already wounded by a bullet that went through both his legs, Petry picked up an enemy grenade that landed near him and two fellow Rangers and threw it back toward the enemy.

The grenade detonated and blew off Petry's right hand. Petry applied a tourniquet to his wound and called for help.

"If not for Staff Sergeant Petry's actions, we would have been seriously wounded or killed," Sgt. Daniel Higgins, a fellow Ranger, wrote in a statement, according to the Army News Service.

Typical of other MOH recipients before him, Petry thanked his family, the medical workers who cared for him and the soldiers who continue to serve in combat overseas, during the awards ceremony last month at the White House.

"To be singled out is very humbling. I consider every one of our men and women in uniform to be our heroes," he said.

Now assigned to Fort Benning, Georgia, Petry was the ninth service member to be presented the Medal of Honor for actions in Afghanistan or Iraq. The other living recipient is Army Staff Sgt. Salvatore Giunta.

Earlier this week, we learned that Dakota Meyer, who now lives in Austin, Texas, will become the first living Marine to receive the MOH since the Vietnam War.

Meyer will be recognized for his actions two years ago in Ganjgal, a remote Afghan village near the border with Pakistan. After his 13-man unit came under attack by a force of 50 heavily-armed insurgents, Meyer ran through enemy fire numerous times to recover the bodies of fallen comrades.

Four soldiers were killed outright in the attack and another later died of wounds he sustained during the battle. Former U.S. Marine Commandant Gen. James Conway made the recommendation that Meyer receive the medal just before he retired last year.

Meyer is no longer on active duty, having left the Corps after his four-year enlistment was completed. On hearing that he will receive the nation's highest military honor, he humbly spoke of his devotion to those comrades in arms that were left behind that day.

"Whatever award comes out of it, it's for those guys (who were killed) not for me," Meyer said. "I feel the furthest thing from a hero. The way I view it is I let those guys down."

By Jim Zbick

jzbick@tnonline.com