However Lance Corporal Joshua Leakey modestly played down his valour yesterday and insisted the Victoria Cross presented to him by the Queen was recognition of all the sacrifices made by the British military in Afghanistan.
Incredibly the paratrooper is the second member of his family to receive this honour.
His second cousin twice removed, Sergeant Nigel Gray Leakey, was a posthumous VC recipient in November 1945 for his gallantry fighting in Africa during the Second World War.
L/Cpl Leakey is also the third serviceman to receive the VC for service in Afghanistan but the only one not to receive it posthumously.
The 27-year-old from Hampshire said he was nervous before the ceremony but he said the Queen told him: “I don’t get to give this one out very often”.
When a UK/US assault on a Taliban stronghold was pinned down L/Cpl Leakey took command and risked enemy fire to survey the area before giving first aid to a wounded US officer, and leading his evacuation, then returned to the fire fight. On two separate occasions, as bullets flew dangerously close, he retrieved machine guns and took the battle to the Taliban, rallying the troops around him.
His bravery during the attack on the Taliban base in Helmand province, on August 22 2013 has earned him the British armed forces’ highest gallantry medal in the face of the enemy.
L/Cpl Leakey’s citation was read before he was presented with the gallantry medal during the Windsor Castle investiture ceremony.
It stated the paratrooper, from the 1st Battalion, Parachute Regiment, showed “complete disregard” for his own safety when his group came under attack from about 20 insurgents armed with machine guns and rocket propelled grenades.
After the presentation ceremony he said: “It’s great for my family, my friends, my regiment - but it does for me highlight the sacrifice everyone’s made in Afghan, not just in terms of the loss of life and limbs but people going away for months on end.”
L/Cpl Leakey’s citation described how, during the operation, his group had been pinned down on a hillside with a US Marine Corps captain shot and their communication equipment out of action.
He first ran to the top of a barren hill and, with the “snap and crack” of enemy fire all around him, realised that two friendly machine gun teams and a mortar section had been surrounded.
Despite being the most junior commander on the hill, he took control of the situation, running down the slope to give first aid to the wounded US officer and moving him to partial safety.
He then went back up the hill while being shot at, picked up one of the machine guns as bullets ricocheted off its frame, moved it to another position and returned fire, which spurred on the troops around him.
But the fire-fight still raged on so he risked more bullets to get the second machine gun.
His citation said: “Drawing the majority of enemy fire, with rounds splashing around him, Lance Corporal Leakey overcame his fatigue to re-site the gun and return fire. This proved to be the turning point.”
The soldier, whose boyhood dream was to join the Army, said he felt “uncomfortable” about being picked out because he was a team player and everyone in the Paras relied on each other “massively”.