WASHINGTON -- 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 highlighted "his courageous actions" and "selfless service" during the December 2012 operation. The Pentagon described the encounter as involving "hand-to-hand combat" with multiple adversaries.
According to an unclassified summary from a defense official, Byers "displayed superior gallantry, extraordinary heroism at grave personal risk" and is "unquestionably deserving of the Medal of Honor."
The rescue of Dilip Joseph, an American medical doctor, took place in eastern Afghanistan and also resulted in the death of a member of the Navy's Special Warfare Development Group, more commonly known as SEAL Team Six.
The unclassified summary said that Byers was the second member of the rescue team to enter the building where Joseph was being held.
The report stated that the first team member to enter was "immediately shot by enemy AK-47 fire" and that upon entering, Byers "immediately engaged a guard" in a firefight and managed to tackle another guard, subduing him with hand-to-hand combat.
When the other rescue team members asked Joseph to identify himself, Byers heard an unknown voice speaking English and "immediately leaped across the room and selflessly flung his body on top of the American hostage, shielding him from the continued rounds being fired across the room," the report said.
The report also stated that while shielding Joseph with his body, Byers engaged another insurgent and "was able to pin the enemy combatant to the wall with his hand around the enemy's throat" until the other members of the team could "fire precision shots" to kill the final enemy guard.
In an effort to save the team member who had been shot, Byers, a certified paramedic, performed CPR during the 40-minute flight to Bagram Air Base, the report said.
Obama also paid tribute to Byers' slain comrade, Chief Petty Officer Nicolas Checque, at Monday's ceremony.
Joseph, who lives in Colorado, welcomed the news about Byers.
He said he was "thrilled that he is getting this accolade and being honored this way," saying he was "more than worthy" of the award.
Byers "gave me a second chance in life," he said.
At the time, military officials said that Joseph was in imminent danger of injury or death when the rescue mission was launched.
Byers is the 11th living service member to be awarded the Medal of Honor for actions in Afghanistan. Dozens of friends, family members and special operators joined the Ohio native at the ceremony.
Byers, 36, joined the Navy in 1998 as a corpsman and has been assigned to various SEAL teams. He completed seven combat tours and received the Bronze Star with valor and two Purple Hearts, among other citations.