In January, Lieutenant Commander James Gennari, a Navy nurse, put his life in danger when he held the hand of a young Marine while an unexploded grenade was removed from his leg at a hospital in Afghanistan. Thursday, Gennari was honored for his selflessness.
Gennari is a trauma care nurse with 28 years in the Navy. He has also worked the ERs in quite a few Chicago-area hospitals, so he has seen a lot, but probably nothing quite like what he faced seven months ago in a theater of war.
January 12th, a field hospital in Afghanistan: Marine Lance Corporal Winder Perez is on a gurney with a 14-inch long, unexploded rocket propelled grenade impaled in one of his legs.
"We always knew it could blow up, but we chose not to think about it too much," Gennari said.
It was James Gennari's day in the rotation as a critical care transport nurse. He is told he doesn't have to put himself in harm's way, but he does because, he says, "It's my job."
In a video posted on YouTube, Gennari is seen on immediately reassuring the conscious young man with the bomb in his leg.
"I took his hand," said Gennari," and said, 'I promise you, I won't leave you until that thing is out of your leg.' "
And he didn't. An ordinance disposal officer -- with no surgical options -- grabbed the fins of the RPG, and on the fourth pull, it came out.
Not only did Perez live, his leg was saved, and he can walk again. Commander Gennari called him awhile back to ask what Perez remembered: "I remember this old guy with glasses who came up to me and said I won't leave you," said Gennari, recounting the conversation. "And I said, 'Well that would be me.' "
In a ceremony Thursday at the Lovell Health Care Center, the "old guy" got something nice for what happened on that day in Afghanistan, a Bronze Star for gallant action and selfless disregard to his own safety.
"I know what I did was extraordinary, don't get me wrong, but I don't see myself as a hero," said Gennari. "Being a good dad and husband makes me a hero."
The live RPG in Corporal Perez's leg was a through-and-through wound, so Commander Gennari and Army Staff Sergeant Ben Summerfield could see the top of the grenade on one side of the leg and the fins on the other.
They were certainly mindful of the risk, but Gennari says he felt no more in danger that day than any other day in Afghanistan.
There is a certain symmetry to Gennari's receiving a Bronze Star. His father received the same medal for gallant action in Korea.