Navy SEAL receives Medal of Honor for hostage rescue

Updated 1:54 PM EST, Mon February 29, 2016
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Story highlights

U.S. Navy SEAL Edward Byers receives the Medal of Honor for heroism during the rescue of an American hostage in Afghanistan

The senior chief special warfare operator subdued insurgents with hand-to-hand combat

The rescued hostage tells CNN that he is "thrilled" that Byers is getting the award

(CNN) —  

Navy SEAL Edward Byers received the Medal of Honor on Monday morning for his role in rescuing an American civilian being held hostage by Taliban insurgents in Afghanistan.

President Barack Obama awarded Senior Chief Special Warfare Operator Byers the nation’s highest medal for valor in combat, while pointing out that only five other SEALs had received the honor ever before.

“Ed is defined by a deep sense of humility, he doesn’t seek the spotlight, in fact he shuns it. He’s the consummate quiet professional,” Obama said during the White House ceremony. “Today’s ceremony is truly unique – a rare opportunity for the American people to get a glimpse of a special breed of warrior that so often serves in the shadows.”

The White House had previously highlighted Byers’ “courageous actions” and “selfless service” during the December 2012 operation. Obama described the encounter as involving “hand-to-hand combat” with multiple adversaries.

According to an unclassified summary from a defense official obtained by CNN, Byers “displayed superior gallantry, extraordinary heroism at grave personal risk” and is “unquestionably deserving of the Medal of Honor.”

The rescue of American Dr. Dilip Joseph, which took place in eastern Afghanistan, resulted in the death of a member of the Navy’s Special Warfare Development Group, more commonly known as SEAL Team Six. During Monday’s ceremony in the East Room, President Obama related the most crucial moments of the rescue mission.

When the rescuers were less than 100 feet from the building where Joseph was being held, a guard came out and bullets started flying. SEALs rushed to a doorway, and Byers started ripping down blankets that covered it, exposing himself to enemy fire.

The leader of the rescue group pushed inside and was hit. When Byers moved inside next, a guard aimed his rifle at him, and Byers fired.