Bush honors fallen California sailor
Los Angeles Times
WASHINGTON – Tears glistening on his face, President Bush posthumously presented the Medal of Honor on Tuesday to a Navy SEAL from Garden Grove, Calif., who saved the lives of American snipers in Iraq by throwing his body on top of an insurgent’s grenade.
Petty Officer 2nd Class Michael Monsoor, 25, died during a firefight on Sept. 29, 2006, in an al-Qaida-controlled section of Ramadi.
During a ceremony in the White House East Room, his parents, George and Sally Monsoor, accepted the nation’s highest award for bravery on his behalf.
The presentation, which took place as Army Gen. David H. Petraeus offered an Iraq update on Capitol Hill, was a reminder of the human cost of a war in which more than 4,000 American servicemen and women have died since 2003.
Monsoor is the first sailor and first Californian to receive the Medal of Honor as a result of combat in Iraq.
“We will not let his life go in vain,” the president said.
As the citation was read, a choked-up Bush tried to stare stoically ahead, the tears on his cheeks shining under the light of the chandeliers. He glanced twice toward the family, making eye contact with Sally Monsoor.
Among the 250 guests at the ceremony was the presumptive Republican nominee for president, Sen. John McCain of Arizona, along with Vice President Dick Cheney, Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates, Rep. Loretta Sanchez, D-Calif., and Rep. Ed Royce, R-Calif.
Fellow SEALs and former Medal of Honor winners also attended.
Born in Long Beach, Calif., Monsoor played tight end on the Garden Grove High School football team and enlisted in the Navy in March 2001. Three years later, he completed the grueling process to become a member of a SEAL team. He was a machine gunner and a communications specialist in a platoon that came under enemy fire on 75 percent of its missions in Iraq – and “in most of these engagements, Mike was out front defending his brothers,” Bush said.
Monsoor also earned the Bronze Star for bravery in 11 operations between April and September 2006. Four months before his death, he was awarded the Silver Star for rushing to help a wounded SEAL in the middle of a street while enemy fire kicked up the concrete at his feet.
His comrades recalled Monsoor as modest and selfless. Bush said Monsoor had overcome severe asthma as a child to become a successful athlete.
On the day Monsoor died, his job was to provide cover for three SEALs and eight Iraqis. A grenade thrown at the rooftop position they had taken after being attacked earlier in the day hit Monsoor in the chest and bounced on the ground. He was the only person who had an escape route, the president said, but he threw himself on the grenade without hesitation.
“Under the glare of the desert sun,” Bush said of Monsoor, “he never lost his cool.”
In addition to his parents, Monsoor is survived by two brothers and a sister.
Rear Adm. Robert Burt, the Navy’s top chaplain, said Monsoor’s sacrifice was a testament to the strength of the latest generation of American war fighters.
“We know he loved … his brothers-in-arms to the point that, without hesitation, he sacrificed himself that they may live,” Burt said.
What is the Medal of Honor?
The Medal of Honor is awarded by the President in the name of Congress to a person who, while a member of the military, distinguishes himself or herself conspicuously by gallantry and intrepidity at the risk of his life or her life above and beyond the call of duty while engaged in an action against an enemy of the United States; while engaged in military operations involving conflict with an opposing foreign force; or while serving with friendly foreign forces engaged in an armed conflict against an opposing armed force in which the United States is not a belligerent party.
The deed performed must have been one of personal bravery or self-sacrifice so conspicuous as to clearly distinguish the individual above his comrades and must have involved risk of life. Incontestable proof of the performance of the service will be exacted and each recommendation for the award of this decoration will be considered on the standard of extraordinary merit.
– Source: Chapter 3-6, Army Regulation 600-8-22 on military awards
By the numbers
• Since the Civil War, just over 3,400 men (and one woman) have received the Medal of Honor.
• The names of recipients of the medal are inscribed on the Roll of Honor. There are nine spaces inscribed only as “unknown soldier.”
• A total of 19 men received more than one Medal of Honor. Of those, 14 received two separate Medals for two separate actions; five received both the Navy and the Army Medals of Honor for the same action.
• As of March 16, 2008, there are 105 living recipients of the honor.
• President George W. Bush has awarded 10 medals during his presidency, but Tuesday’s was only the third issued to someone serving in the Iraq war. All three have been awarded posthumously.
– Department of Defense, Medal of Honor Society