BOSTON A New Hampshire veteran who continued to fight after being seriously wounded in one of Afghanistan’s bloodiest battles was awarded the Medal of Honor — the highest military honor for acts of valor — at the White House Monday afternoon.
Army Staff Sgt. Ryan Pitts, 28, was born in Lowell and grew up in New Hampshire. He joined the Army in 2003 after graduating from Souhegan High School in Amherst, New Hampshire. Five years later, he was fighting for his life in one of the bloodiest battles of the war in Afghanistan.
“It belongs to every man there that day, and I’ll accept it on behalf of the team. It’s not mine.”
Pitts and his fellow paratroopers were not long into their mission to establish an outpost near the village of Wanat when, on July 13, 2008, hundreds of Taliban fighters assaulted their position. Nine Americans would die in the battle.
Pitts was so badly wounded in his right thigh that he needed a tourniquet. But he kept fighting and directing fire from other soldiers, and eventually the Apache helicopters that arrived to help repel the attackers. His commanding officers say he saved lives and turned the tide of the battle.
Pitts is the ninth living recipient of the Medal of Honor for bravery in the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq. Seven other men have been honored posthumously. At first, Pitts said, he wasn’t happy that he was being singled out for the honor.
“Didn’t really feel like I deserved it,” he told WBUR’s Here & Now. “But time has allowed me to process it, and this was a team effort. It belongs to every man there that day, and I’ll accept it on behalf of the team. It’s not mine.”
After fighting for nearly two hours while badly wounded, Pitts was finally evacuated. He spent several weeks recovering at Walter Reed Army Medical Center in Washington. He was medically retired from the Army in 2009 and now lives in Nashua, New Hampshire, and works for a software company.
Pitts says there was valor everywhere the day of that battle. Some of that valor was displayed by Cpl. Jason Bogar, who fired hundreds of rounds of ammunition as he and Pitts and the other soldiers at the outpost in Wanat tried desperately to fight back against the attack. Bogar is the soldier who applied that tourniquet to Pitts’ leg, saving his life, according to Pitts.
Minutes later, Bogar jumped from a bunker to try to advance on the Taliban fighters. He was killed by a shot through the neck.
Bogar’s mother, Carlene Cross, was planning to attend the White House ceremony Monday.