WASHINGTON (CNN) - President Barack Obama awarded the Medal of Honor Thursday to the family of an Army sergeant who died as a result of his heroic actions in Afghanistan.
Staff Sgt. Jared C. Monti posthumously received the medal for "conspicuous gallantry," the White House said.
"He displayed immeasurable courage and uncommon valor - eventually sacrificing his own life in an effort to save his comrade," a White House statement said.
The sergeant's parents, Paul and Janet Monti, joined Obama at the White House for the ceremony.
Monti, who would have been 34 on September 20, was a native of Raynham, Massachusetts. He joined the Army in March 1993 and received several military decorations, including the Bronze Star, Purple Heart, five Army Commendation Medals, four Army Achievement Medals, three Good Conduct Medals and three National Defense Service Medals.
He was posthumously promoted to sergeant first class.
Other survivors include Monti's sister, Niccole Monti; brother Timothy Monti; and niece Carys Monti.
According to a Pentagon account and CNN interviews with soldiers who were there, Monti was leading a small patrol that was ambushed by dozens of Taliban fighters. As rocket propelled grenades flew past his head, he got on the radio to call for backup.
In between his calls for help, Monti was using his own rifle to engage the enemy. Then he saw that a young private named Brian Bradbury was badly wounded, unable to move, exposed to enemy fire. Another sergeant said he would run out and try to save Bradbury, but Sgt. Mark James heard Monti say no.
"I remember him saying that Bradbury was his guy, so he was going to be the one to go get him back and bring him back to us," James said.
But with bullets flying, Monti had to take cover. He ran out a second time, but the enemy fire got more intense, so he stopped and yelled for help. Risking his life yet again, he then ran out a third time to try to save Bradbury.
"We knew he was going to get Bradbury - then we all kind of heard him scream," recalls James. Monti was mortally wounded.
Inspired, his squadron beat back the enemy, thanks in part to the backup that Monti had calmly called for earlier. But then there was a terrible twist.
A U.S. helicopter lowered a medic to grab Bradbury, the young private Monti had tried to save, to get him quickly to a hospital. As the two men were being raised into the air, a cable snapped. Bradbury and the medic plunged to their deaths.
This is the second Medal of Honor awarded to a service member for duty in Afghanistan and the first conferred by Obama, according to the Congressional Medal of Honor Society. Four Medals of Honor have been awarded for service in Iraq. All six medals were awarded posthumously.
The Medal of Honor is awarded to members of the Armed Forces who distinguish themselves conspicuously by gallantry above and beyond the call of duty while:
- Engaged in an action against an enemy of the United States;
- Engaged in military operations involving conflict with an opposing
foreign force; or
- Serving with friendly foreign forces engaged in an armed conflict
against an opposing armed force in which the United States is not a belligerent
"The meritorious conduct must involve great personal bravery or self-sacrifice so conspicuous as to clearly distinguish the individual above
his or her comrades and must have involved risk of life," the White House said.
"There must be incontestable proof of the performance of the meritorious conduct, and each recommendation for the award must be considered on the standard of extraordinary merit."
Congress established the Medal of Honor in 1863.
Prior to Thursday, 3,467 Medals of Honor had been awarded. Of those, 1,522 were for duty in the Civil War.
Army personnel have received the most, with 2,402. That is followed by the Navy with 747, the Marine Corps with 297, the Air Force with 17 and the Coast Guard with one. There have been 620 medals awarded posthumously.
One woman has received the medal, according to the Congressional Medal of Honor Society.
Monti's ceremony Thursday coincided with the 2009 Medal of Honor
Convention, taking place in Chicago. It started Tuesday and will end Saturday.
–CNN Senior White House Correspondent Ed Henry contributed to this report.