Navy SEAL Killed in Iraq Receives Medal of Honor

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A Navy SEAL from Southern California who gave his life to protect his fellow SEALS in Iraq is about to receive the Medal of Honor, the nation's top military honor. Petty Officer Michael Monsoor died after throwing himself atop a hand grenade thrown by an insurgent in Ramadi.


The White House is about to bestow the highest military award on a Navy SEAL from Southern California. He was 25-year-old Michael Monsoor. He gave his life to protect comrades in Iraq. And tomorrow, he gets the Medal of Honor. As NPR's Mandalit del Barco reports, Monsoor's heroism came as no surprise to those who knew him.

MANDALIT DEL BARCO: Petty Officer Mike Monsoor was a tough guy his fellow Navy SEALs knew they could count on. His elite group carried out operations on some of the toughest streets in Iraq. Back in 2006, a freelance journalist was rolling when Monsoor's unit came under fire.

(Soundbite of gunfire)

Lieutenant Commander SETH STONE (U.S. Navy): The mortar fire, machine gun fire randomly sprayed the patrol, who were contacted by the enemy about 75 percent of the time.

DEL BARCO: That's Navy Lieutenant Commander Seth Stone, Monsoor's leader and friend. He was on a nearby rooftop the day the young petty officer was killed. The SEALs were on sniper patrol when an insurgent tossed a hand grenade in the middle of them. It bounced off Monsoor's chest.

Lt. Commander STONE: He recognize immediately the threat, yelled grenade, and that due the fact that two other SEAL snipers, our brothers, could not possibly escape the blast, he chose to smother it with his body and absorb the impact and save the guys to his left.

DEL BARCO: Three Navy SEALs and some Iraqi they were training all survived that day. Stone says it wasn't the first Monsoor was a hero. Earlier, he had dashed in of the street under fire to drag a wounded comrade to safety. Sarah Monsoor says her younger brother was always protective of those around him.

SARAH MONSOOR: It was just a sense that I always got around him that if something happened, I know that Mike would have my back 100 percent.

DEL BARCO: You hear the same kind of story at Monsoor's old high school in Graden Grove, south of Los Angeles. That's were he grew up boogie boarding at the beach, driving a motorcycle in Corvette and playing football. His coach, Chris van Hoek(ph), remembers Monsoor as a fearless team player.

CHRIS VAN HOEK: You know, he wasn't afraid to throw his body in there at any time. You know, he definitely - well, he didn't care a fewer 250 pounds. He would take you on.

DEL BARCO: Monsoor came from a military family. His father and brother were both Marines, but he chose to become a Navy SEAL and underwent the rigorous training that went with the job. His sister Sarah says the whole family will be in Washington tomorrow to accept Michael's Medal of Honor.

MONSOOR: It's for all the other families that haven't been able to speak to something about their loss or have brother or sisters that are over there doing this kind of a job and don't really get recognition for it.

DEL BARCO: Commander Seth Stone says Monsoor was a real life hero who was a lot like when from his favorite movie, "Rambo" - the first one, not the sequel.

Lt. Commander STONE: The tough guy who wants to suffer in silence. He doesn't want a big hug just because he's hurting. He doesn't want a be felt sorry for. He just wants to serve his country. He doesn't know why that things don't turn out exactly the way the military teaches us they will. He definitely shared some of existence of dilemmas Rambo was dealing with. Things are tragic. Why are so? And Mike just kind of looked like Rambo as well.

DEL BARCO: Stone says Monsoor sacrifice inspired him to reinlist. And as he heads back to Iraq, Stone said his friend died on Saint Michael's day, the saint for which he was named, the patron saint of warriors. Mandalit Del Barco, NPR News.

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