WASHINGTON – Tears glistening on his face, President Bush posthumously presented the Medal of Honor on Tuesday to a Navy SEAL 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, of Garden Grove, Calf., 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 service members 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, along with Vice President Dick Cheney and Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates.
Monsoor 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.
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.”