Nashua Medal of Honor recipient: 'There was valor everywhere'
By KIMBERLY HOUGHTON Union Leader Correspondent
President Barack Obama presents the Medal of Honor to former U.S. Army Staff Sgt. Ryan M. Pitts, left, for gallantry in Afghanistan, while in the East Room at the White House in Washington, Monday. (REUTERS/Larry Downing)
Ryan Pitts' wife, Amy, holds their year-old son, Lucas, during the Medal of Honor award ceremony on Monday. The two received marriage advice from President Barack Obama during the event because they were celebrating their second wedding anniversary at the White House. (Scripps Howard Foundation Wire photo by Megan Card)
A young man from Nashua was bestowed the prestigious Medal of Honor from President Barack Obama, who detailed the courage shown by Ryan M. Pitts six years ago.
During a ceremony at the White House on Monday, Obama described the Battle of Wanat as one of the fiercest during the war in Afghanistan. Nine American soldiers died and more than 25 others, including Pitts, were seriously injured when they were forced to defend themselves against gunfire and rocket-propelled grenades launched by 200 Taliban insurgents on July 13, 2008.
“Against that onslaught, one American held the line,” said Obama, describing Pitts’ actions during the attack. “ ... In Ryan Pitts, you see the humility and the loyalty that define America’s men and women in uniform.”
Pitts, a former active-duty Army staff sergeant who now works at Oracle Corp. in Burlington, Mass., was hit with shrapnel in both legs and an arm as machine gun fire and grenades continued to pound his team.
“The enemy was so close he could hear their voices,” Obama said of Pitts. Severely injured and unable to stand, Pitts pulled himself up on his knees to maneuver a machine gun. He repeatedly removed pins from grenades and launched them at the enemy while working the radio system to help target air strikes and turn the battle around.
“It was, said a soldier, ‘Hell on earth,’” Obama said, adding Pitts had already made peace with what seemed to be his inevitable death.
Once reinforcements arrived, Pitts continued to whisper in radio messages of where to locate the enemy, eventually and successfully holding them back, the President said.
Video: Sgt. Ryan Pitts' Medal of Honor Ceremony
Pitts is the ninth living recipient to be awarded the Medal of Honor for actions in Iraq or Afghanistan. The Medal of Honor recognizes members of the Armed Forces who distinguish themselves conspicuously by gallantry above and beyond the call of duty while engaging in military operations involving conflict with an opposing foreign force.
“This medal, Ryan says, is an opportunity to tell our story. There was valor everywhere, according to Ryan,” said Obama, adding Pitts considers the honor as a memorial to the nine men who did not survive the battle. “These American patriots lived to serve us all.”
Pitts’ wife, Amy, along with their 1-year-old son, Luke, were present for the award ceremony on Monday, along with Gov. Maggie Hassan and the Gold Star families from Pitts’ unit. Pitts, a 2003 graduate of Souhegan High School, was a member of the 173rd, 2-503 Airborne in eastern Afghanistan’s Kunar province during the attack.
Following the Battle of Wanat, Pitts remained hospitalized at Walter Reed Army Medical Center until October 2009, during which time his mother, Kelly Pitts, spearheaded a mission to help her son reconnect with his comrades in order to mourn the loss of their fellow soldiers.
“This is the story Ryan wants us to remember,” said Obama, thanking the men and women in uniform who perform with integrity and courage. “Ryan represents the very best of that tradition and we are very, very proud of him.”
Obama shared a story about Pitts as a kindergartner; he drew a picture of a soldier and said that is what he wanted to be when he grew up. Monday also marked Pitts’ two-year wedding anniversary, according to the President.
“As Ryan put it, it is going to be tough topping this one as far as anniversaries go,” Obama said.
After his recovery, Pitts graduated with honors from the University of New Hampshire with a business degree. He now works in business development for the computer software industry.
The Army produced a 15-minute training video based on the Battle of Wanat. Click below to view it: