Medal of Honor Recipient Earns Place in Hall of Heroes

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Panetta called the former 4th Brigade Combat Team Infantryman a hero as he described Romesha's selfless, fearless reconnaissance during a surprise enemy attack on Oct. 3, 2009 in which 400 Taliban fighters converged on Combat Outpost Keating, Kamdesh District, Nuristan Province.

On that deadly day, the outpost at the bottom of a steep valley, manned by only 52 Soldiers, fell under attack through concentrated fire.

An injured Romesha summoned help and fought to protect the bodies of fallen soldiers while providing cover to wounded team members.

Eight of Romesha's comrades perished in the day-long battle.

"A new greatest generation of Americans has stepped forward after 9/11," Panetta said. "A new generation of patriots that answered the call to serve ... has endured enormous hardships and they have done it with unflinching courage."

Panetta stressed any generation in which people risk their lives for America is the greatest generation, including those who have fought and died since 9/11.

"They've dealt with lengthy separations from friends and family, repeated deployments ... to austere battlefields in distant lands," he said. "They've witnessed the horrors of modern warfare, seeing their comrades in arms, their closest friends horribly maimed, and yes, killed by the scourge of improvised explosive devices ... and the scourge of an enemy whose purpose is to kill Americans."

Still, Panetta continued, American troops remain undeterred, in vigilant patrol throughout the streets and alleyways of Iraq and in the mountains and deserts of Afghanistan.

"For 10 long years ... they have fought because they believe that America is worth fighting for ? that Americans still serve as a shining example for that world in which we have the most precious values of all ? values of freedom, equality, justice and democracy."

Those ideals and the United States' commitment to go after Al Qaida safe havens, Panetta said, brought Romesha and his comrades to that remote outpost, where enemies hid with confidence.

"That the Taliban failed to overtake Combat Outpost Keating is ... a testament to the bravery, the heroism, the warrior spirit of the 50 American Soldiers who fought to save it," Panetta said. "And Clint later [said] to a reporter, 'That was our America right there ... we own that and we weren't going to let anybody come and take it."

During the ceremony, Romesha said Taliban fighters surrounded a place he and 52 other members of Bravo Troop, 3rd Squadron, 61st Cavalry called home.

"Four hundred Taliban versus 52 American Soldiers." It just doesn't seem fair ... to the Taliban."

Romesha said the Medal of Honor is not often given when things go well on the battlefield.

"Some say I'm a hero, but it doesn't make sense, because I got to come home with a few scars," Romesha said. "Eight of my friends did not have that fortune."

He identified each comrade who perished during the attack that day in Afghanistan: Staff Sgt. Justin Gallegos, Sgt. Christopher Griffin, Sgt. Joshua Hardt, Sgt. Joshua Kirk, Spc. Stephan Mace, Staff Sgt. Vernon Martin, Sgt. Michael Scusa, and Pfc. Kevin Thomson.

"Whether I wear a uniform or civilian attire, I am and will always be a Soldier for life," Romesha said.

Panetta said one of his toughest responsibilities is writing condolence letters to the families of those who have made the ultimate sacrifice.

"... As tough as it is to lose a loved one, perhaps there is some comfort to know that they gave their lives for this country, and that they are heroes, and that they are patriots, and that they will never, never be forgotten," he said.

Romesha is only the fourth living service member to receive the medal for service in Operation Iraqi Freedom or Operation Enduring Freedom.

"You fought well, you fought bravely, and your courage is now a part of American history," Panetta said.

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