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OAKLAND, Pa. -- Marine Sgt. David M. Gerardi said risking his life to save his platoon members while under enemy fire in Afghanistan "just made sense."
The military on Monday awarded Gerardi, 22, of Moon, Pa., a Silver Star Medal during a ceremony in Soldiers & Sailors Memorial Hall & Museum in Oakland.
"The individuals who accompany you are a direct reflection of yourself," said Gerardi, who served in the Marine Corps from June 2008 to April 2012 and is a member of the Army National Guard.
"I've been blessed to serve with the best Marines and soldiers. I've had the best leadership that taught me everything leading up to that gunfight."
The honor of receiving the military's third-highest decoration for valor stems from Gerardi's actions during a June 6, 2011, ambush in Helmand Province, Afghanistan, in which enemy fire pinned down his platoon.
Gerardi, then a corporal, was a sniper with the 1st Platoon, Bravo Company, 3rd Reconnaissance Battalion. He risked his life to get into a position to suppress the attack.
Gerardi crossed open fire to a position behind a 21/2-foot-tall stone wall, which offered him a clear line of sight to the enemy positions. He suppressed an enemy machine gun long enough for an adjacent team to extract an Afghan National Army casualty from open terrain.
With enemy fire hitting around him, Gerardi coordinated with another team and fired a light antitank assault rocket to reduce a second enemy position, allowing his unit to move to safety.
"Basic training kicks in," Gerardi said. "We spend a lot of time preparing for a situation like that, and you see points of advantage. To go to that position made sense."
Maj. Gen. Melvin G. Spiese, who presented the medal, spoke of Gerardi's "heroics and personal sacrifice," risking his life to ensure the safety of fellow Marines.
"He could have chosen to do something other than accept responsibility for the safety of his country," Spiese said.
Gerardi is a 2008 graduate of Fox Chapel Area High School. The family moved to Moon.
His parents, Mike and Young Gerardi, were overcome with emotion when speaking of their son's honor.
"We thank God for protecting them and helping them come home safely," said Young Gerardi, 57. "We are so proud of the team and proud of our son."
Mike Gerardi, 58, said his son has "been a special kid all his life."
"He's very unselfish. He's just a good kid, a great kid. We're very proud of him."