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Medal of Honor recipient declines invitation to State of the Union

By Jake Tapper, CNN Chief Washington Correspondent
February 12, 2013 -- Updated 1725 GMT (0125 HKT)
Former Staff Sgt. Clint Romesha is awarded the Medal of Honor by President Obama Monday.
Former Staff Sgt. Clint Romesha is awarded the Medal of Honor by President Obama Monday.
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • Clint Romesha was invited by the first lady to attend the State of the Union speech
  • He said it was an honor, but he wants to spend the evening with former Army buddies
  • It's also his 13th wedding anniversary, Romesha says
  • He was awarded the Medal of Honor Monday by the president

(CNN) -- The former Army staff sergeant who was awarded the Medal of Honor by President Barack Obama Monday is declining the first lady's invitation to be her guest at Tuesday's State of the Union address.

Clint Romesha, who was awarded the prestigious medal for uncommon valor in Afghanistan, told CNN that he has decided to spend the evening with friends from his former unit, Black Knight Troop, 3-61 CAV, his wife Tammy -- with whom he celebrates a wedding anniversary Tuesday -- and their families.

"It's such a great honor to be invited to the State of the Union," Romesha, 31, told CNN. "I really feel bad about not being able to go. But a lot of these guys I haven't seen a really long time and I'd like to hang with them just a little bit more."

Romesha said he also wants "to be there with the family, especially on the 13th wedding anniversary of me and Tammy," his high school sweetheart.

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"I've done some soul searching," he said. "As much as a great honor it would be to be a guest of the first lady, it's also kind of hard to break away from the friends and the family and all the great guys here" from Black Knight Troop, who have come to Washington for the Medal of Honor events. "I just need to spend a little more time with them."

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Romesha has always been a reluctant hero, uncomfortable in the spotlight and eager to share credit with his fellow troops. After the ceremony Monday, Romesha briefly spoke to reporters on the White House grounds, where he was overcome with emotion.

"I stand here with mixed emotions of both joy and sadness for me today," he said. "I don't think I'm much different than Medal of Honor recipients Sergeant First Class Petry and former Staff Sergeant Giunta and feeling conflicted with this medal I now wear. But joy comes from recognition for us doing our jobs as soldiers on distant battlefields, but is countered by the constant reminder of the loss of our battle buddies, my battle buddies, my soldiers, my friends."

Romesha said he accepted "this tremendous honor on behalf of all soldiers who have served with me that day."

"This award is for the eight soldiers that didn't make it and for the rest of the team that fought valiantly and magnificently that day. I will forever be humbled by their bravery, their commitment to service and their loyalty to one another."

Excerpt: 'The Outpost'

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