I was honored to meet Sgt. 1st Class Leroy Arthur Petry a few weeks ago after he spoke at the AFCEA West conference in San Diego. His story is well-known (you can read the story and see the video of the MOH ceremony here), and even though many people in the audience were familiar with it, it meant something more to hear him tell it from his own perspective.
During his question and answer session with David Hartman, I did something that I rarely do. I looked away from the young man who had been thrust into the national spotlight, and looked at the audience.
What I saw was stunning. Every eye was on him. On the faces of the crowd was something that I did not recognize at first, but eventually it dawned on me. What I saw was admiration. Silent respect. Each was experiencing a very real, personal moment as he or she listened to the combat veteran recount the day that changed his life forever.
And I realized that in today’s modern world, when the 24-hour news cycle brings us reports of unrest and cynicism around the world, when crazy celebrities do outrageous things to get attention, when instant gratification seems to be the norm; we still need heroes.
Seven months ago SFC Petry was unknown – one of the many men and women who have served and sacrificed for the rest of us with dignity and honor. Today he is a Soldier who wears the Medal of Honor – one of the very few who have been so recognized since 9/11 – who conducts himself with a grace and poise that belies his recent celebrity. The day he spoke to us, he came across as genuine, humble, and honorable. He praised his fellow Soldiers. He connected with the people in the room as if he were standing with them in their own living rooms.
He – and the medal he wore – represented something that we have been seeking. An affirmation that bravery and honorable deeds still mean something. That selfless acts under desperate conditions are of a higher order in the hierarchy of human worth. We needed him to be there, in front of us, encouraging us to do the same.
We were looking for a hero, and we got one.