Medal of Honor Ceremony Marked by Prayer
On 12 July 2011, Sergeant First Class Leroy Petry received the Medal of Honor in a ceremony at the White House. SFC Petry was honored for his selfless actions when he picked up and threw an enemy grenade that had fallen among his team. The grenade discharged and catastrophically amputated his hand.
SFC Petry has remained humble throughout, thanking his family and asking for prayers for the sacrifice of military families in support of the US’s mission:
It’s with [my family’s] support that I’ve served and will continue to serve. Military families sacrifice just as much as those who wear the uniform, so please continue to keep all of the military families in your thoughts and prayers…
To be singled out is very humbling. I consider every one of our men and uniform serving here and abroad to be our heroes. They sacrifice every day, and deserve your continued support and recognition…
Though most organizations edited it out, the ceremony itself began and ended with a prayer led by US Army Chief of Chaplains Maj Gen Donald Rutherford:
Let us pray. Almighty and ever-living God, You who have given us this good land and its founding truths for our American heritage, we ask Your presence as we gather to recognize a man who has gone above and beyond the call of duty in defense of that heritage. In Your providence, Sergeant First Class Leroy Petry valor and sacrifice saved the lives of his men and fellow Rangers that trying day in Afghanistan.
By Your grace, we know that he continues to live today according to those same values. Honor such heroes who have woven the tapestry of this great nation. Pray that You may enable each of us Americans to likewise live lives of valor and sacrifice every day to continue weaving the tapestry of America. We celebrate with Sergeant First Class Petry’s wife, mother, father, grandparents, his brothers and his children. Also remember his grandfather Leo, who celebrates with us today in a very special way.
We are grateful for all the people and events You have used to mold this man who stands before us this day. We are grateful, too, for the Rangers, our Soldiers, Sailors, Airmen, Marines and Coast Guardsmen who have given their lives in this long conflict. Give Your grace and strength to their families and friends as they live with the loss of their loved ones and comrades. And now may Your presence be with us in this hour, may Your guiding grace be upon our national leadership. Grant all in our military, especially those who serve today in harm’s way, the strength and wisdom that come only from You.
May You be honored in every endeavor to which You have called America and her citizens. And finally, may Your favor be upon Sergeant First Class Petry and his family. President Calvin Coolidge once wrote, “A nation that forgets its defenders itself will be forgotten.” And that we as a nation hold him, and those like him, who have given so much in our common defense unforgotten. In this we come before You and pray in Your holy Name, Amen.
And at the end:
Let us pray. Lord, be upon us this day as we all live the values and celebrate the commitment to our nation Sergeant First Class Petry has modeled. Give us strength this day and keep us always in Your care. This we pray in Your holy Name. Amen.
Despite the appropriateness of these prayers to this occasion, some would like to ban prayers like these at official events (which was similar to the last posthumous Medal of Honor ceremony), claiming “let us pray” is “coercive,” and there’s a “spectre” of command influence. (In this case, participating senior leaders included President Obama, General Jim Cartwright, Army Secretary John McHugh, and General Marty Dempsey.)
A public prayer by a government official or military officer is not Congress making a law respecting establishment, nor is it reasonably an order or command to participate in a religion — regardless what religion he or she may be. It is a demonstration of American cultural heritage and religious freedom — freedom nearly 3 million Americans serve in uniform to protect, including SFC Petry.