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Four-star general awards medal to CPS student who saved pal in shooting

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Updated: April 2, 2013 6:30AM

He just sprang to action, as heroes do.

When shots rang out as he ate pizza on his front porch last July, Rony Monzon jumped in front of his friend, taking three bullets to save her life.

That act of bravery makes Rony a hero, said the Army bigwig who presented the JROTC Medal of Heroism to Rony, 14, on Thursday at Phoenix Military Academy high school.

The man of the hour spent the early part of the morning with four-star Gen. Robert Cone, who flew in to hand him the medal.

But Rony stood by quietly as Cone chatted with his alderman, Ed Burke, about the Army. Burke handed the general an honorary Chicago fire chief’s badge. By the time the freshman stepped forward in a gym full of uniformed classmates to receive a medal few in the country possess, his expression was serious.

Rony’s school uniform, head-to-toe green, was neat, his black shoes gleamed. His jacket front was bare, save for his name tag and a single star pin, ready to showcase the highest Army medal awarded to JROTC cadets.

Rony still looked a little sheepish as he sat on stage among the powerful and his parents, smiling only when his mother spoke to him.

He barely watched the TV news footage from the fateful July 11 event in which he earned the honor, projected on a gym wall.

Rony was eating pizza and listening to music on the front porch of the Brighton Park two-flat where he grew up, with his friend, Dane ysi Valdovinos, who lived downstairs.

Shots rang out, then the gunman ran away. Rony told reporters he just threw himself in front of his friend without thinking about it. He was hit three times, in his arm, hip and the left side of his chest. “He took the bullets,” Daneysi said the day after the shooting. “They would have hit me in the head, but he stood up in front of me and they hit him instead.”

Then the general rose to present the award “for extraordinary bravery in the face of imminent personal danger.”

Cone told the cadets he has seen heroism in Iraq and Afghanistan.

“I’ve never met a hero that said anything different than exactly what Rony says: He just did it. He did it,” Cone told them. “It means that in that moment, the circumstances that happen reveal — it’s almost like his body cracked away and you could see inside — it’s his character and his soul.”

You have it or you don’t, the general continued: “And you have it because of who you are and the things that you’ve done in life . . .and in that millisecond, that decision is made without thinking, it’s made because you are a person of character.”

His mother, Diana, beamed throughout the ceremony. She teared up afterwards recalling coming home minutes after the shooting and finding her elder son on a bench, bleeding but alive. Who did it doesn’t matter to her; the family wouldn’t pursue charges.

“I thank God that he’s here with us,” Monzon said. “What happened doesn’t stop him. He never makes excuses to say, ‘Oh I’m not going to school,’ and he’s improving a lot.”

After graduation, Rony sees two choices: serve in the Army, then go to college or go to college first, then join the Army.

Once the ceremony ended, he shucked his jacket — with silver medal stuck on for now with a binder clip — for a celebratory lunch. His green short-sleeved shirt revealed scars from one of the shots. His demeanor relaxed, too, as he explained how proud he was to have lured a real four-star general to Phoenix: “I’m the first one at this school to get this award.”

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