CONCORD, N.H. (CBS/AP) – When Staff Sgt. Ryan Pitts first heard he’d been awarded the Medal of Honor, he says he wasn’t happy about it.
“I never felt that I deserved it,” said Pitt. “But since then I’ve accepted the fact that this isn’t mine, it belongs to everybody who was there that day. We did it together. I didn’t do more than anybody else.
Pitts was serving in Afghanistan when his unit came under attack in 2008.
Nine men would die.
“When I realized I was alone, I thought I was going to die, I thought it was my time,” said Pitts.
But Pitts fought back, launching grenades at the enemy despite sustaining shrapnel wounds all over his body.
He kept enemy forces at bay until U.S. reinforcements could arrive.
In a statement, the Army says “Throughout the battle, despite the loss of blood and severity of his wounds, Pitts’ incredible toughness, determination, and ability to communicate with leadership while under fire allowed U.S. forces to hold the observation post and turn the tide of the battle.”
In the middle of it all, he made a promise to Sgt. Israel Garcia who was gravely wounded.
“There wasn’t anything we could do for him, other than give him the guarantee that I would come home and tell his wife and mom that he loved them and he was thinking of them in his last moments,” said Pitts. He has since retired from the Army and is now a husband and father.
Pitts, who was raised in Mont Vernon and now lives in Nashua, started Thursday’s remarks at the National Guard Headquarters in Concord by reading the names of the nine members of his platoon, who died in the attack.
“While it is an honor to have been nominated for the award, it is not mine alone,” he said. “The honor belongs to every man who fought at Vehicle Patrol Base Kahler, especially to those who made the ultimate sacrifice that allowed the rest of us to return home. I have an absolute responsibility to tell our story, because there are nine men who cannot and it is their names you should know.”
They are: Sergio Abad, Jonathan Ayers, Jason Bogar, Jonathan Brostrom, Israel Garcia, Jason Hovater, Matthew Phillips, Pruitt Rainey and Gunnar Zwilling.
Pitts says he’ll live his life to honor those who did not come back home.
He will become the ninth living recipient of the medal for actions in Iraq or Afghanistan and has heard from two of the others about life after receiving the honor.
Pitts maintains he hasn’t changed because of the medal.
“I think the biggest thing that has changed is I know I’ve been given a gift and I think I have an appreciation of life that I probably didn’t have before,” he said. “I know now that I’m going to live my life for those who aren’t here because I owe it to them.”
Pitts, who’s in business development at a software firm, was accompanied Thursday by his wife, Amy. His face brightened when asked about life since the battle, clearly happy about his upcoming second wedding anniversary and their 1-year-old son, Lucas.
When he someday tells the boy about what happened in Afghanistan, he said, “I don’t want to tell him about my experiences. I want to tell him about the other guys.”
He added: “I want him to know he’s here because of their actions. It’s the only reason he’s here because a lot of those guys saved my life.”
How would he feel if Lucas joined the service? Proud, but it’s his path to choose, Pitts said.
The military “was the greatest thing I’ve ever done in my life,” he said. “It was honor of my lifetime to serve with those guys and I would do it all over again.”
WBZ-TV’s Michael Rosenfield contributed to this report.
(TM and © Copyright 2014 CBS Radio Inc. and its relevant subsidiaries. CBS RADIO and EYE Logo TM and Copyright 2014 CBS Broadcasting Inc. Used under license. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed. The Associated Press contributed to this report.)
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