Medal of Honor Winner Breaks Gavel at NYSE

Curtis Kalin
By Curtis Kalin | July 24, 2014 | 10:22 AM EDT

Earlier this week, Army Staff Sgt. Ryan Pitts was awarded the Medal of Honor by the president. His act of courage, valor, and bravery will, hopefully. receive a second round of media coverage based on his accidental breaking of a gavel while opening the New York Stock Exchange.

While the video itself is an affable display of Sgt. Pitts’ physical strength, it’s much more important to revisit is the act that brought him to national prominence. Pitts signed up for the Army at age 17 in 2003 and served in Afghanistan on multiple deployments from 2005-2009.

The act that earned him the Medal of Honor occurred on July 13, 2008. The battle occurred in the Wanat Village of Afghanistan. Pitt’s company was attacked by 200 Taliban fighters. The enemy fighters surrounded the base firing automatic weapons and lobbing grenades. The fighters “infiltrated Wanat and set up firing positions and weapons caches in the town’s bazaar, hotel complex, homes, and mosque.” American forces were outnumbered four to one.

Even after receiving shrapnel wounds in both legs and an arm, Pitts performed this risky maneuver:

Realizing the enemy was in hand-grenade range, Pitts returned to the northern position and began “cooking off” hand grenades – pulling the safety pin, but holding the live weapon in his hand for several seconds before throwing it toward the enemy. This risky tactic prevented enemy forces from throwing the grenades back at the observation post before they detonated.

Pitts soon realized he was alone in the inner portion of the base and not able to walk. He continued to fight even as he could hear the enemy fighters talking to one another. He fired grenades, laid down cover fire, and then called in an airstrike.

Pitts recounted his thought process: "I basically reconciled that I was going to die, and made my peace with it," he told the Army. "My personal goal was to just to try and take as many of them with me, before they got me."

Reinforcements soon arrived from the air and ground. But, Pitts’ valor and steadfast bravery during the assault earned him the military’s highest honor. He’s the ninth post-9/11 veteran to receive the medal.

After all he’s done for his country, I’m sure Wall Street didn’t mind the broken gavel.