By Ian Simpson
WASHINGTON, June 23 (Reuters) - A former paratrooper who was the only survivor of one of the bloodiest battles of the war in Afghanistan was awarded the Medal of Honor on Monday in a ceremony at the White House as his family and comrades looked on.
Former Army Staff Sergeant Ryan Pitts of Nashua, New Hampshire, is the ninth living recipient of the medal for fighting in Iraq or Afghanistan. The Congressional Medal of Honor, which was presented on Monday by President Barack Obama, is the highest military honor in the United States.
Pitts was with the 503rd Infantry Regiment, 173rd Airborne Brigade, at Vehicle Patrol Base Kahler at Wanat, a village in Kunar province, when the post was attacked by Taliban fighters on July 13, 2008.
With grenade shrapnel in both legs and his left arm, Pitts fought for more than an hour to defend his position.
The Taliban withdrew after two days, leaving nine U.S. soldiers dead and 27 wounded. The Pentagon said it was the greatest number of deaths among U.S. troops in a single battle since 2005.
"Against that onslaught, one American held the line. Just 22 years old. Nearly surrounded. Bloodied but unbowed. The soldier we recognize today with our nation's highest military declaration, the Medal of Honor, Staff Sergeant Ryan M. Pitts," Obama said.
Pitts' courage, endurance and ability to communicate by radio with other troops while he was under fire were crucial to keeping the outpost out of Taliban hands, the Pentagon said.
In a video interview with Military Times magazine, Pitts called winning the Medal of Honor "surreal." He said he was accepting it for the U.S. troops who were killed at Wanat.
"Valor was everywhere. I think that's what it was, that everybody just did what they needed to do," he said.
Pitts left the Army in October 2009. He works in business development for the computer software industry, the Defense Department said. (Additional reporting by Steve Holland; Editing by Toni Reinhold)
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