For the second time in my life, I’ve shaken the hand of a Medal of Honor recipient.
The first time was in the early 1980s when I worked for The Gallup Independent in Gallup, N.M., and got to know Heroshi Miyamura. The Gallup native, known as “Hershey,” in 1951 in Korea killed more than 50 enemy soldiers, including hand-to-hand fighting with a bayonet, while ordering his men to fall back.
The next time was at the Healing our Heroes luncheon Friday in Denver when I met former Army Ranger Leroy Petry, who also is a New Mexico native. I didn’t realize until I went to shake his hand that he lost his right one while throwing a live grenade away from his fellow soldiers in Afghanistan in 2008.
Petry served as the keynote speaker for the Healing our Heroes gala, which raised money to help injured veterans receive hyperbaric oxygen therapy.
“I thank God every morning that I’m here,” Petry said. “So many paid the ultimate price or suffered horrific injuries.”
Among those present at the lunch at the Denver Center for the Performing Arts: Gov. John Hickenlooper, Secretary of State Wayne Williams, Congressman Ken Buck of Windsor and his wife, state Rep. Perry Buck, Congressman Mike Coffman of Aurora; and Republican Senate candidates Jack Graham and Jon Keyser.
The event was organized by The Starboard Group.
“This nation is blessed to have men and women willing to step into harm’s way to protect their fellow soldiers, our nations and our values,” Williams said. “It was wonderful to serve as a host for this event, which seeks to help those who put their lives on the line.”
Healing Our Heroes is a program of the Rocky Mountain Hyperbaric Association for Brain Injuries.
Petry received his medal from President Obama in 2011 — becoming only the second living Medal of Honor recipient since the Vietnam War. Petry was hit in both legs with AK-47s before throwing the grenade that had rolled his way. As he put on his own tourniquet, he still directed his team.
“When the fight was won, as he lay in a stretcher being loaded onto a helicopter, one of his teammates came up to shake the hand that Leroy had left,” Obama said during the White House ceremony.
“‘That was the first time I shook the hand of someone who I consider to be a true American hero,’ that Ranger said. Leroy Petry ‘showed that true heroes still exist and that they’re closer than you think.’”
President Eisenhower awarded Miyamura his medal in 1953. Miyamura, who had ordered his squad to withdraw, was severely wounded as he kept on fighting.
“I know Hershey Miyamura,” I told Petry.
“So do I,” he said.
After meeting Petry, I called The Gallup Independent to ask if they could locate a copy of the story I wrote about Hershey. I remembered a single line from it, Miyamura’s comment about the medal and the hometown hero’s welcome at the train station: “Never so proud to be an American as today.”
Sadly, some of the newspaper’s clips are missing and it could not be located, but city editor Richard Reyes generously shared some recent photographs of Hershey, who now has a high school in Gallup named after him.