A modest hero was awarded the nation's highest military honor today for courageously putting his life at risk to save his fellow soldiers during a gruesome 2007 ambush in Afghanistan.
"On the surface, this is a piece of blue fabric and carved metal," Sgt. Kyle White told reporters of the Medal of Honor hanging around his neck.
"At its core it is a symbol of our nation, a nation forged in war, of men and women who act heroically and give their all for the nation and for each other."
Rarely looking up from his notes, the soft-spoken 27-year-old reflected openly on the bittersweet honor.
"It is a representation of the responsibility we accept as warriors and members of a team. It is a testament to the trust we have in each other and our leaders. Because of these reasons, the medal cannot be an individual award," he said.
"Battles are not won by men, if that were true the Taliban would have won on that trail in Afghanistan because they had every tactical advantage, including the numbers. Battles are won by spirit and spirit is present in relationships built from the trust and sacrifice we share with one another in times of hardship and by that definition cannot be possessed by one person," he said. "Without the team there can be no Medal of Honor."
Six Americans, including White's best friend, were killed during the surprise attack by Taliban fighters in the village of Aranas in Nuristan province, an area known as "ambush alley."
White, who was a 20-year-old Army radiotelephone operator at the time, repeatedly braved enemy fire to aid his fellow soldiers, spending four hours dragging them to cover under a tree and tending to their wounds, despite suffering strong blows to the head and shrapnel wounds to his face.
"Today, we pay tribute to a soldier who embodies the courage of his generation - a young man who was a freshman in high school when the twin towers fell, and who, just five years later, became an elite paratrooper with the legendary 173rd Airborne, the 'Sky Soldiers,'" President Obama said in a White House ceremony.
"We honor Kyle White for his extraordinary actions on that November day, but his journey from that day to this speaks to the story of his generation," he added.
White is the seventh living recipient to be awarded the Medal of Honor for actions in Iraq or Afghanistan.
The president noted that White carries with him always the memory of the fallen. Around his wrist, he wears a steel bracelet etched with the names of his six comrades who were killed in the attack.
"This is maybe even more precious than the medal symbol just placed around my neck," White explained. "On it are the names of my six fallen brothers, they are my heroes."
"Though I am still uncomfortable hearing my name and the word hero in the same sentence. I am now ready for the challenge and proudly wearing this blue piece of fabric and carved metal with the same reverence that I wear the bracelet and I vow to live up the responsibility of doing so," he said.