We're not lost, Sergeant, We're in … France

SFC Leroy Petry, Medal of Honor

When you walk through the bunkers at Pointe du Hoc, or look down the cliffs, or notice how intact the bunkers are after thousands of bombs and 67 years, you wonder how it could ever have been taken. Colonel Rudder led 225 men of the 2nd Ranger Battalion up the cliffs and into the bunkers. Where do we find men such as these?

In Sante Fe, New Mexico, Steven Drysdale and his cousin, Leroy Petry, were inseperable. As boys do, they fought each other occasionally, but “Everybody liked Leroy. He was always smiling, laughing, bonding with people.” Petry wanted to join the Army since he was seven years old. After Steven joined the Army and became a Ranger, Leroy followed suit.

On Memorial Day, 2008, near Paktia, Afghanistan, Sergeant First Class Leroy Petry, of the 2nd Ranger Battalion, and another Ranger advanced into the courtyard of a compound in Afghanistan and came under fire. During the fight, after Petry had already been shot through both legs, a grenade was tossed near Petry and his comrades. He moved to it and picked it up to toss it away, thinking, “It was probably going to kill all three of us. I had time to visually see the hand grenade. And I figure it’s got about a four-and-half second fuse, depending on how long it has been in the elements and the weather and everything and how long the pin has been pulled. I figure if you have time to see it you have time to kick it, throw it, just get it out there.”

Petry was wrong about the time on the fuse, but right in his instincts. Unfortunately, when the grenade exploded, it amputated his right hand. He put a tourniquet on himself, reported his wound and continued to communicate until they had eliminated the opposition.

Petry has reenlisted and plans a long career in the Army, helping other servicemembers who have lostt limbs readapt to society.

I guess we find these men on playgrounds in New Mexico, in the streets of New York, the hills of Tennessee or just about anywhere you search in this great country of ours.

Pacific Airborne Medal of Honor
27 February 2011, 16:33
Filed under: 511th, Medal of Honor, Paratroopers | Tags: ,

I knew that some airborne units had shipped out to the Pacific and that they’d seen some intense fighting, especially in the Philippines, but I hadn’t realized that they’d made combat jumps. As I was reading about the liberation of Manila, I came across an account of PFC Manuel Perez, Jr’s Medal of Honor in Gerry Devlin’s Paratrooper. PFC Perez was serving as lead scout for A/1/511 during the advance on Fort McKinley on 13 February 1945.

While marching toward the inner ring of the fort’s defensive wall, Perez’s company had managed to knock out eleven of the twelve large bunkers. Perez had shot and killed five enemy soldiers during the preliminary skirmishes.

Now that the smaller bunkers were out of the way, Company A was facing the final and largest bunker blocking the approach to the fort. Inside were two twin-mount .50 caliber machine guns. Paratroopers nearing the big bunker were immediately cut to ribbons by the twin .50s.

In an attempt to take the bunker, Perez ran wide around its flank, killing four more enemy defenders along the way. From his new position, Perez threw a grenade into the bunker. When four Japanese ran out to escape the grenade blasts, he killed them.

Just then, Perez discovered that he had expended his rounds. While reloading, an escaping enemy soldier tried to kill him by <i>throwing a rifle with a fixed bayonet</i>, like javelin. As he tried to parry this thrust, Perez’s rifle was knocked from his hands, causing him to drop his bullets. Reaching down, he snatched the ememy rifle and killed his assailant and another Japanese soldier. Taking advantage of the confused situation, Perez ran toward his objective. On the way he bashed in the skulls of three Japanese who tried to stop him. He then ran inside the bunker and bayoneted the lone survivor of the grenade blasts.

While Perez survived that encounter, he would not survive to be awarded his medal, as was true of many such heroes. He was killed less than a week later, while charging a pillbox alone.

Perez is buried in Fairlawn Cemetery in his hometown of Oklahoma City, Oklahoma. Perez enlisted in Chicago and there is a plaza named after him in Chicago’s Little Village Square as well as an elementary school.

It’s very easy for the general public when thinking about paratroopers to forget about anyone who wasn’t in Easy Company. Mike Ranney had let Dick Winters know that his grandson had asked if he had been a hero during the war, to which Ranney responded that he wasn’t a hero, but he had served in a company of heroes. With men like Manuel Perez, Jr. in the 511th Parachute Infantry Regiment on the other side of the globe, we were blessed with many companies of heroes.

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