(WASHINGTON) — Badly injured, alone, and surrounded by Taliban fighters, Ryan Pitts had resigned himself to dying.
“The other guys had died fighting; I owed it to them to do the same,” the former U.S. Army staff sergeant, who will be awarded the Medal of Honor at the White House on Monday, told ABC News.
Pitts is credited with maintaining an observation post and preventing the bodies of fallen soldiers from falling into enemy hands during a 2008 battle in Afghanistan that claimed the lives of nine Americans.
Pitts and his platoon were establishing a new U.S. outpost outside the small village of Wanat, when a force of 200 Taliban fighters surrounded the outpost in the early morning hours of July 13, 2008 and launched a surprise assault.
“There was a burst of machine gun fire from the north and then it just erupted with RPGs and fire from pretty much 360 degrees — every location,” Pitts recalled.
Pitts was at an observation post about 300 feet away from the main outpost when the attack erupted. He remembers being wounded almost immediately.
“I took shrapnel to my right leg, pretty much all the way around up until my lower back and then left leg somewhat, left arm and a little bit on my forehead,” Pitts said.
After then-Spc. Jason Bogar applied a tourniquet to the worst injury on Pitts’ right leg, Pitts began fighting again.
“I crawled to the northern fighting position where we had some of our hand grenades and started to throw them along the northern edge of our perimeter,” he said.
But soon came a terrifying moment: Pitts realized he was completely alone.
“It didn’t sound like there was any fire coming out of the OP from any of the fighting positions,” he said. “So, I crawled around and saw that everybody was either dead or gone.”
Pitts picked up his radio and called for backup only to be told that there was no one to send.
“I said, ‘OK, then this position is going to fall,’ and I just got off the radio after that,” Pitts said.
He was scared only momentarily.
“Then, when I thought about it,” he said. “I wasn’t going to let them take me alive, and so I wasn’t as scared anymore.”
Pitts resolved to fight to the end.
“[I] shot a grenade launcher … straight up in the air, so I could drop it directly on where I thought the enemy was,” he said. “[I] called down to our first squad where they were and asked anybody that could see the OP to shoot over the tops of the sandbags … [so that the enemy] wouldn’t be able to crest the top of the sandbags.”
Pitts managed to independently maintain his position until backup support arrived. But despite his leading in the battle, Pitts insists that the actions of his fellow squad mates were of equal importance to his in pulling the team through the battle.
“I think it was ‘our’ actions that maintained that position,” Pitts said. “[Sgt. Brian] Hissong, at 1st squad, he was the one shooting over the tops of the sandbags. That helped. All the guys fighting as hard as they did, guys like Cpl. Jonathan Ayers, who took a round to the helmet and kept shooting his machine gun — eventually, he was killed doing that. Everybody contributed; it wasn’t just me.”
And as he prepares to receive the nation’s highest award for military valor from President Obama, Pitts said it will be on behalf of his entire squad — and especially those who paid the ultimate sacrifice.
“There were 48 of us and approximately 200 enemies that basically had everything they should’ve had to be victorious,” Pitts said. “They had us outnumbered, the high ground, [the] element of surprise … and we fought and held our ground.”
Members of his platoon, as well as his wife and 1-year-old son, will join Pitts at Monday’s White House ceremony.
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