A Navy SEAL and devoted Catholic who died after jumping on a grenade to save his fellow soldiers’ lives was posthumously awarded the Congressional Medal of Honor on Tuesday.
In an East Room ceremony, President George W. Bush described the life of Petty Officer Second Class Michael Anthony Monsoor, praising his sacrifice that earned him the United States’ highest decoration for military valor.
“The Medal of Honor is awarded for an act of such courage that no one could rightly be expected to undertake it,” the president said.
A biography posted on the Navy’s web site said that Monsoor would attend Mass “devotionally” before going on military missions.
Monsoor was born in California on April 5, 1981, to a Marine father and a social worker mother. The third of four children, he overcame asthma and coughing fits to become a football player and a superb athlete.
After enlisting in the Navy in March of 2001, Monsoor passed SEAL training and became a “frogman” in September 2004. Less than a third of trainees finish the intense preparation for the elite special forces group.
Monsoor was deployed to Ramadi, Iraq in the spring of 2006, where he served as both a heavy machine gunner and a communications operator in military operations against insurgents. On September 29, he and two fellow SEALs had taken a position on a rooftop when an insurgent’s grenade bounced off of Monsoor’s chest and landed next to his teammates.
President Bush described the seaman’s actions that followed:
“Mike had a clear chance to escape, but he realized that the other two SEALs did not. In that terrible moment, he had two options -- to save himself, or to save his friends. For Mike, this was no choice at all. He threw himself onto the grenade, and absorbed the blast with his body. One of the survivors puts it this way: "Mikey looked death in the face that day and said, 'You cannot take my brothers. I will go in their stead.'"
The president also described how Monsoor and another SEAL rescued a wounded teammate during a firefight earlier in 2006.
“With bullets flying all around them, Mike returned fire with one hand while helping pull the injured man to safety with the other. In a dream about the incident months later, the wounded SEAL envisioned Mike coming to the rescue with wings on his shoulders,” President Bush said.
Interestingly, Michael’s parents named him after St. Michael the Archangel and as President Bush noted, September 29, the day of Monsoor’s death, was St. Michael’s feast day.
President Bush, who reportedly cried during the ceremony, presented the Medal of Honor to Monsoor’s parents before an audience that included the two men Monsoor saved.
“Mr. and Mrs. Monsoor,” the president said, “America owes you a debt that can never be repaid. This nation will always cherish the memory of your son. We will not let his life go in vain. And this nation will always honor the sacrifice he made. May God comfort you. May God bless America.”
The president said Monsoor was the fourth Medal of Honor recipient in the “war on terror.”
A tribute video to Michael Monsoor can be seen at: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=CfK2BQCIIes