A special occasion became even more special as Ryan Pitts, a former staff sergeant in the Army and the latest recipient of the Congressional Medal of Honor, helped serve Tuesday's No Dough Dinner at the USO Great Lakes Center
"I love these kind of events," said the former staff sergeant who is now a Nashua, N.H. resident. "I get a chance to continue serving and helping with the new service members who are in a small group that have chosen to serve our country and give freely. Even if it is just serving pizza to these guys."
Pitts, along with wife Amy, and members of the Chicago Blackhawks organization, served pizza, pasta and salad from the Pizzeria Uno in Gurnee, which had General Manager Elyse Jones on hand, to sailors and family members.
It is quite impressive sight because Pitts has already served his country more than most.
During his Medal of Honor ceremony last month, President Barack Obama said "In Ryan Pitts you see the humility and the loyalty that define America’s men and women in uniform."
However, Pitts is adament that the award is not just his, but also everyone he served with in the 2nd Battalion, 503rd Infantry Regiment "the Rock" and has a personal recollection about each one of the soldiers who died during the July 13, 2008 combat in Wanat Village, Kunar Province, Afghanistan.
He mentions the fallen by name: Israel Garcia, Sergio Abad, Jonathan Ayers, Jason Bogar, Jonathan Brostrom, Jason Hovater, Matthew Phillips, Pruitt Rainey and Gunnar Zwilling.
In part, Pitts citation reads "while Sergeant Pitts was providing perimeter security at Observation Post Topside, a well-organized Anti-Afghan Force consisting of over 200 members initiated a close proximity sustained and complex assault using accurate and intense rocket-propelled grenade, machine gun and small arms fire on Wanat Vehicle Patrol Base. An immediate wave of rocket-propelled grenade rounds engulfed the Observation Post wounding Sergeant Pitts and inflicting heavy casualties. Sergeant Pitts had been knocked to the ground and was bleeding heavily from shrapnel wounds to his arm and legs, but with incredible toughness and resolve, he subsequently took control of the observation post and returned fire on the enemy. As the enemy drew nearer, Sergeant Pitts threw grenades, holding them after the pin was pulled and the safety lever was released to allow a nearly immediate detonation on the hostile forces."
Unable to stand, he fought off the enemy until a two-man support team arrived, He gave one of his fellow soldiers his weapon and gathered ammunition and threw grenades at the enemy. He then radioed for help, which prevented the enemy from overrunning his position.
"It really is for all of us," he said of the medal. "It's not just mine."
And while the Chicago Blackhawks players and staff are treated like rock stars wherever they go in a metropolitan area grateful for the team winning two Stanley Cups in four seasons, team President and CEO John McDonough, a legendary sports executive in Chicago, said the organization felt honored to serve at the USO
"It is the ultimate privilege to be able to serve these young men and women," he said. "I had a chance to sit with a couple of 18-year-olds when I first got here and gratifying to be able to talk with such great young people."
And one battle-tested veteran.