WASHINGTON, Feb. 28 (UPI) -- President Barack Obama on Monday awarded the Medal of Honor to a Navy SEAL for rescuing an American civilian held hostage by the Taliban.
Obama awarded Senior Chief Special Warfare Operator Edward Byers the highest combat medal of valor for rescuing American doctor Dilip Joseph in eastern Afghanistan in December 2012.
"Like so many of our special operators, 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 ceremony. "But the Medal of Honor is our nation's highest military decoration. And 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."
Byers is the sixth Navy SEAL to receive the Medal of Honor. The White House said he displayed "courageous actions" and "selfless service" during the rescue operation. The Department of Defense praised Byers' "superior gallantry, extraordinary heroism at grave personal risk" which made him "unquestionably deserving of the Medal of Honor."
Byers is the first living SEAL to receive the Medal of Honor since the Vietnam War, the White House said in a statement.
"I've lived my entire career a very private life," Byers said. "We don't talk about what we do, and this honor carries with it some obligations that I need to carry out. You know, you follow those through. But, I plan to continue doing my job as normal and to continue being a SEAL. It's something I love and grew up wanting to be."
The rescue operation in December 2012 was executed by the U.S. Naval Special Warfare Development Group -- better known by its former name, SEAL Team Six -- the same elite combat group that killed Osama bin Laden.
The first team member to enter the building where Joseph was being held was immediately shot and killed.Byers followed and "immediately engaged a guard," shooting the first guard then hurling himself over Joseph to protect him while he pinned the other guard to the wall with his hand against the guard's throat. Another SEAL shot the guard.
"His bold and decisive actions under fire saved the lives of the hostage and several of his teammates. By his undaunted courage, intrepid fighting spirit, and unwavering devotion to duty in the face of near-certain death, Chief Petty Officer Byers reflected great credit upon himself and upheld the highest traditions of the United States Naval Service," a military aide read before the Medal of Honor was presented to Byers.