Obama bestows Medal of Honor on Afghan veteran for actions in 'hell on earth'

Obama bestows Medal of Honor on Afghan veteran for actions in 'hell on earth'
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President Obama on Monday bestowed the Medal of Honor on a former Army staff sergeant who fought off waves of enemy fighters in what has been described as one of the fiercest battles of the war in Afghanistan.

Staff Sgt. Ryan Pitts is the ninth living veteran to receive the nation's highest award for valor for actions in Iraq or Afghanistan.

Obama said the 28-year-old embodies the “humility and loyalty” that define America’s troops, highlighting that Pitts considers the award “a memorial for the guys who didn’t come home.”

Pitts earned the nation's top combat honor for his actions during a July 13, 2008, attack on a U.S. outpost in Wanat, Afghanistan. Roughly 200 enemy fighters, some armed with rocket-propelled grenades, opened fire on the installation.

“One soldier described it as hell on earth,” Obama said during the West Wing ceremony.

Pitts was wounded in the arms and legs by grenade shrapnel. Unable to stand on his own, Pitts lobbed several grenades at the insurgents, who drew so close the he could hear their voices. Pitts also pulled himself to his knees to man a machine gun against approaching insurgents.

Pitts had to whisper to a command post that he was the last U.S. soldier alive, as he called in for air support to repel the attackers.

Two additional troops arrived and Pitts helped direct the aerial attack that forced the insurgents back up the walls of the valley.

Obama honored the soldiers who died in the attack by reciting their names and asked their families to stand up and be recognized.

The president noted that Monday was also Pitts’s second wedding anniversary. Pitts’s wife, along with their 1-year-old son, were in attendance.

"It's going to be tough topping this one, as anniversaries go," Obama joked. But, he said, “speaking as someone who has been married for over 20 years, you should try. Don’t rest on your laurels after just two years.”

Pitts received thunderous applause after Obama awarded him the medal.

“It’s not bad to stand up on this one,” the president said.

Obama then joked that the White House had a “big anniversary party” planned, adding “the pleasures of family were hard-earned by this man.”