President Obama on Monday presented the Medal of Honor to U.S. Navy SEAL Edward Byers, who used his body to shield and help save an American hostage during a Taliban raid in 2012.
Praising Byers, 36, a senior chief special warfare operator, for his “extraordinary heroism” in the rescue mission in Afghanistan, Obama recited the SEAL code during Monday’s awards ceremony: “In times of war or uncertainty there is a special breed of warrior ready to answer our Nation’s call.”
“Senior Chief Edward Byers Jr. is such a man,” Obama said, adding of another SEAL who died during the operation, “Chief Petty Officer Nicolas Checque was that man.”
“People may not always see them, we may not always hear of their success, but they are there in the thick of the fight, in the dark of night, achieving their mission.”
Byers’ family joined him for the White House ceremony, during which the president noted that the SEAL’s mother, Peggy, had one question when she first learned about the event honoring her son: “Do you think I can come?”
“Yes, Mom,” Obama said as the crowd laughed. “You’re allowed to come when your son gets the Medal of Honor.”
The White House previously said in a statement that Byers would be awarded the military’s highest honor for “his courageous actions while serving as part of a team that rescued an American civilian being held hostage in Afghanistan on December 8-9, 2012.”
An unclassified summary from a defense official obtained by CNN stated that Byers “displayed superior gallantry, extraordinary heroism at grave personal risk” and is “unquestionably deserving of the Medal of Honor.”
The summary said that Byers was a member of the Navy’s notoriously secretive SEAL Team Six, which in 2012 rescued Dr. Dilip Joseph, an American aid worker who was kidnapped by the Taliban along with his driver and interpreter just days before his mission. The first rescue team member to enter the building where Joseph was being held was “immediately shot by enemy AK-47 fire.” When Byers entered he “immediately engaged a guard” in a firefight and managed to tackle and subdue another guard.
As the other team members asked Joseph to identify himself, Byers heard an unknown voice speaking English and “immediately leaped across the room and selflessly flung his body on top of the American hostage, shielding him from the continued rounds being fired across the room,” according to the report.
While shielding Joseph with his body, Byers pinned another “enemy combatant to the wall with his hand around the enemy’s throat” until the other team members could take out the final enemy guard. Byers, a certified paramedic, later tried to save the team member who had been shot by performing CPR during the 40-minute flight to Bagram Airfield, the report said.
“In just minutes, by going after those guards, Ed saved the lives of several teammates, as well as the hostage,” Obama said Monday.
Joseph, who currently resides in Colorado, previously told CNN that he was “thrilled that [Byers] was getting this accolade and being honored this way,” adding that he was “more than worthy” of the award.
Byers “gave me a second chance in life,” Joseph said.
Byers, who has completed eight overseas deployments with seven combat tours, has also received the Bronze Star with valor and two purple hearts, among other awards. The Medal of Honor is the nation’s highest award for valor in action and Byers is the eleventh living service member to be awarded the accolade for actions in Afghanistan.