WASHINGTON — President Barack Obama awarded the nation’s highest military honor Monday to a Navy SEAL who participated in a daring 2012 raid that rescued an American hostage in Afghanistan.

Senior Chief Special Warfare Operator Edward Byers Jr. is the first living, active duty member of the Navy to receive the award in four decades.

Obama said during a ceremony at the White House that Byers is the “consummate, quiet professional” who would rather be elsewhere, perhaps holding his breath under dark, frigid water.

“Today’s ceremony is truly unique, a rare opportunity for the American people to get a glimpse of a special breed of warrior who so often serves in the shadows,” Obama said, calling the ceremony perhaps the largest gather of special-operations members in the history of the White House.

Byers participated in the rescue of Dr. Dilip Joseph, who was abducted along with his driver and Afghan interpreter. The rescue was undertaken three days after the abduction by members of the Navy’s famed SEAL Team 6.

A guard spotted Byers’ team when it neared the building. Byers ripped down the blankets in the doorway. Another member of the team pushed his way inside and was immediately shot. Once inside, Byers struggled with an armed guard and heard an unknown voice speaking in English, the Defense Department said.

“He 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.

“Almost simultaneously, Chief Byers identified an additional enemy fighter directly behind Dr. Joseph. While covering the hostage with his body, Chief Byers was able to pin the enemy combatant to the wall with his hand around the enemy’s throat,” a Pentagon summary stated. Byers restrained the man until another SEAL was able to shoot him dead, the summary said.

Once the doctor was moved to a helicopter landing zone, Byers, a certified paramedic, assisted in providing medical aid to his wounded colleague, who died of his wounds. That SEAL has previously been identified as Petty Officer 1st Class Nicolas D. Checque, 28, of Monroeville, Pennsylvania. Obama also honored Checque’s service during Monday’s ceremony.