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Afghan battle hero Clinton Romesha to receive Medal of Honor

Staff Sgt. Clinton Romesha, 31, helped rescue the injured and retrieve the dead during an ambush by hundreds of fighters in Afghanistan. NBC's Brian Williams reports.

An Army sergeant who ignored his battle wounds to take out the enemy, rescue the injured and retrieve the dead during an ambush by 300 fighters in Afghanistan will receive the Medal of Honor, the White House announced Friday.

Staff Sgt. Clinton Romesha, 31, who has since left the military, will be only the fourth living service member awarded the nation's top honor for courage in Iraq or Afghanistan.

His citation says he is being recognized for "acts of gallantry and intrepity" when fighters attacked Combat Outpost Keating from all sides with rocket-propelled grenades, machine guns, mortars and rifles on Oct. 3, 2009, igniting a daylong battle.

Romesha, a father of three, rousted reinforcements and then engaged in battle with the help of an assistant gunner. After taking out one machine-gun team, he set his sights on a second and suffered shrapnel wounds when a grenade hit a generator he was using for cover.

"Undeterred by his injuries, Staff Sergeant Romesha continued to fight and upon the arrival of another soldier to aid him and the assistant gunner, he again rushed through the exposed avenue to assemble additional soldiers," the citation says.

"With complete disregard for his own safety, (he) continually exposed himself to heavy enemy fire as he moved confidently about the battlefield engaging and destroying multiple enemy targets."

At the same time, Romesha was orchestrating a plan to secure key points of the battlefield — and directing air support to knock out a band of 30 heavily armed fighters who were attacking "with even greater ferocity."

He and his team also provided cover so that three wounded soldiers could get to an aid station, then "pushed forward 100 meters under withering fire, to recover the bodies of their fallen comrades."

Eight soldiers were killed in the battle, chronicled in the book "The Outpost," by journalist Jake Tapper, who described Romesha as "an intense guy, short and wiry," the son of a Mormon church leader who had attended seminary before joining the military.

Romesha, according to the book, never lost his cool — playing "peekaboo" with a sniper so he could get a bead on him, smiling as bullets ricocheted around him.

'He's always been a good kid'
Romesha’s father, Gary, said his son called him with news of the medal on Friday.

“I thought it was great. But I’m more thankful he is able to receive it on his own and it’s not given to us after he is dead,” he said.

The father of five, a Vietnam veteran, said all three of his sons went into the military.

“I tried to talk to my children. I told them, just don’t go into the infantry, do something where you get skilled. But they didn’t listen to me. They all went into the infantry,” he said in a phone interview from his home in small-town northern California.

He said he wasn’t surprised to hear about his son’s battlefield heroics.

“He’s always been a good kid,” he said. “But I think any of my children would have done the same thing.”

Romesha enlisted in the Army in 1999 and completed two tours in Iraq and one in Afghanistan. He was a section leader with B Troop, 3rd Squadron, 61st Cavalry Regiment, 4th Brigade Combat Team, 4th Infantry Division when the outpost came under fire.

Though the U.S. soldiers were greatly outnumbered, they stopped the Taliban from overrunning the outpost after Afghan troops and guards reportedly fled.

President Obama, who announced the award during a press conference with Afghan President Hamid Karzai, will present Romesha with the Medal of Honor at the White House on Feb. 11.

NBC News' Courtney Kube contributed to this report.

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