08/05/2012 01:48 BST | Updated 08/05/2012 08:33 BST

Prince Harry Praises War Veterans And Accepts Humanitarian Award

Prince Harry hailed Britain's wounded veterans "heroes" as he accepted a humanitarian award for his efforts supporting injured members of the Armed Forces.

The prince paid tribute to servicemen and women battling to rebuild their lives after suffering terrible injuries fighting for their country during an awards ceremony in Washington on Monday night.

His comments came after he met some of those heroes - a group of servicemen and women who had competed at America's Warrior Games, an event for wounded service personnel.

The athletes won five gold medals and a bronze during the sporting event where injured veterans compete in Paralympic-style competitions.

Harry received the humanitarian award from the Atlantic Council, a body which promotes transatlantic co-operation and international security, and he follows in the footsteps of U2 frontman Bono, who received the honour in 2010.

Speaking during the awards ceremony held at an exclusive Washington hotel, Harry said: "It would be wrong of me to speak for these heroes, but not presumptuous of me to pay tribute to them: so many of our servicemen and women have made the ultimate sacrifice; so many lives have been lost and so many changed forever by the wounds that they have suffered in the course of their duties.

"They have paid a terrible price to keep us safe and free.

"The very least we owe them is to make sure that they and their brave families have everything they need through their darkest days - and, in time, regain the hope and confidence to flourish again.

"For these selfless people, it is after the guns have fallen silent, the din of battle quietened, that the real fight begins - a fight that may last for the rest of their lives."

Harry chose to accept the award on behalf of himself and his brother, the Duke of Cambridge, as William is also a committed supporter of Britain's Armed Forces, and through their foundation both princes tackle the issue of caring for disabled and wounded servicemen and women.

Members of the UK's Warrior Games team and some of their American competitors chatted to the prince last night at the Washington residence of Britain's Ambassador to America Sir Peter Westmacott.

A highlight for the team was the standing ovation the American spectators gave triple amputee Corporal Michael Webb, 36, as he swam with just one arm in the 100 metre freestyle race.

The Royal Marine - nicknamed Spider - was left with just his right arm when he was caught in the blast of an improvised explosive device (IED) while on a foot patrol in Afghanistan last July.

Cpl Webb, from Taunton in Somerset, said: "I felt great, I came last as I can only swim with one arm so it took me a lot longer than them but I'm glad to be here.

"The Americans have been great, they just supported our team and treated us as their guests, really well."

The 16 men and women of the British team, which was funded and supported by the charity Help For Heroes, were guest competitors at the Warrior Games staged last week in Colorado Springs and normally open only to US armed forces.

Many are amputees or have other serious injuries and have been treated at Headley Court - the Defence Medical Rehabilitation Centre in Surrey - but the team's manager Martin Colclough said the group relished the challenge.

Mr Colclough, a former Army physical training instructor who went on to hold a senior post at Headley Court, said: "To a man and woman they behaved impeccably and the level of respect for the British Armed Forces was just outstanding because of the dignity with which these guys competed and their generosity in victory."

On the manicured lawns of the British Ambassador's residence Harry chatted to the injured veterans as guests enjoyed afternoon tea, complete with salmon and cucumber sandwiches, or sipped Pimm's.

The royal spent around 20 minutes chatting with the British and American competitors before posing for a group photograph with the men and women.

Among those the prince met were Captain Dave Henson, 27, of the Royal Engineers, who lost both his legs following an IED explosion in Helmand province in February last year.

He was one of Britain's medal winners, earning two golds in the pool at the 50m and 100m freestyle.

Team-mate Captain Simon Maxwell, a Royal Marine who lost a leg in an improvised bomb blast, won three golds - 50m and 100m freestyle for below-knee amputees, and on the track in the 1,500 metres.

Cpt Henson, from Southampton, said: "It took me about five minutes to decide to come here and it's been absolutely brilliant, you can't beat the enthusiasm of the Americans."

Commenting about Harry's award, he added: "He's a massive supporter of us and brings a lot of public awareness to the cause of injured soldiers.

"It seems a very appropriate way to finish off a successful week for the prince to get the award."

Leading Hand Mickaela Richards, 24, from the Royal Navy, who suffered a brain injury and damaged her hip and leg in a road traffic accident, finished third in the 200m.

Ms Richards, from Brackla near Cardiff, said: "I was just hoping I didn't fall on my face. The competing helps, it adds that sense of normality and lets you know that despite your injury there's light at the end of the tunnel.

"But coming here was a great experience, we bonded with the other services and shared tips and information.

"It was an incredible experience to meet Harry, I feel incredibly honoured."