President Barack Obama made one soldier’s wedding anniversary one he will never forget by bestowing him with the Medal of Honor, the highest decoration for battlefield valor in the American Armed Forces.
Army Staff Sergeant Ryan Pitts of Nashua, N.H., was awarded the medal Monday in the East Room of the White House in front of the president, Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel, Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Martin Dempsey and a crowd of nearly 200 that included parents of his fallen comrades and soldiers he fought alongside. The award ceremony coincided with his second wedding anniversary.
“It’s gonna be tough to top this one,” Obama said. “Let me just give you a piece of advice from someone who has been married for over 20 years: you should try.”
Pitts was awarded the medal for combat during the Battle of Wanat when roughly 200 Taliban insurgents ambushed his team in the remote eastern province of Nuristan on July 13, 2008. The insurgents killed nine Americans, but Pitts held the line.
Wounded and bleeding badly, he began lobbing grenades at the enemy before grabbing a grenade launcher to try and finish them off. Despite severe wounds and the imminent danger, Pitts radioed in for support to help repel the attack. He was unable to stand after taking pieces of shrapnel to his body, but managed to come to his knees to man a machine gun, defending the base by striking down several more Taliban fighters until his rescue team arrived. At the end of the fighting, 21 Taliban were dead.
Pitts told Obama he wanted the medal to serve as a reminder of his fallen comrades and all soldiers who have fought in the war.
“This medal, Ryan says, is an opportunity to tell our story,” Obama said. “There was valor everywhere according to Ryan. So today we also pay tribute to all who served with such valor that day: shielding their wounded buddies with their own bodies, picking up unexploded missiles with their hands and carrying them away, running through the gunfire to reinforce that post, fighting through their injuries, and never giving up.”
Pitts will be the ninth living recipient to ever be awarded the Medal of Honor for combat in Iraq or Afghanistan.