DURHAM, N.H. (AP) – A Navy SEAL from New Hampshire who was killed in Iraq this year has won a high tribute.

Nate Hardy was chosen for the George Van Cleave Military Leadership Award, a prestigious honor awarded by the USO to one member of each branch of the military every year.

Stephen and Donna Hardy traveled to New York City on Monday to accept the award for their son, who was killed in action in Iraq in February.

Stephen Hardy said they were “thrilled and honored” to receive the award on his behalf, but the event also stirred up some difficult feelings.

“It was very emotionally charged and emotionally draining,” he said. “But we wouldn’t have wanted to miss it.”

The George Van Cleave Military Leadership Award is presented annually to a member of the military who displays “outstanding commitment, exceptional service, sacrifice and achievements of individuals who have shown extraordinary dedication to their country.”

Retired Navy SEAL Capt. Drew Bisset nominated Hardy for the award, telling Foster’s Daily Democrat he noticed Hardy was special the first day Hardy began a SEAL mentor program while he was still at Oyster River High School.

“Frankly, he typified exactly the criteria of what this particular award is all about,” said Bisset. “Nate did that by making the ultimate sacrifice. And it was a selfless act.”

Hardy was killed in Iraq on Feb. 4 while fighting members of an al-Qaida cell. He was shot while trying to pull his partner, Michael Koch, out of a dangerous situation. Koch also was killed.

In his nomination letter, Bisset called Hardy a “gallant warrior who fought with valor and died with honor.”

But Hardy’s character extends far beyond his death, Bisset said, pointing to Hardy’s eagerness to excel in the most elite Navy SEAL programs and his quick ascent to the rank of chief petty officer at the age of 28.

It was easy to spot the rising star from the beginning, when he traveled monthly from Durham to Connecticut to attend the mentor program, Bisset said.

“I just said ‘Wow,”‘ he recalled of his first impression of Hardy. “He just grasped it completely.”

Bisset called Hardy a “very popular leader” and said other SEALs were eager to serve in his platoon, a rare testament to his leadership abilities.

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