Medal of Honor is bittersweet, soldier says

A look at the past seven recipients of the Medal of Honor, the nation's highest award for valor, from Iraq and Afghanistan. All of the awards so far have been given posthumously. To read more on each U.S. service member who has died in Iraq or Afghanistan, click here.

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By Dana Hedgpeth
Washington Post Staff Writer
Thursday, September 16, 2010

The first living service member to receive the Medal of Honor for action during any war since Vietnam described the experience Wednesday as bittersweet.

"It is such a huge, huge honor," said Army Staff Sgt. Salvatore Giunta, 25, of Hiawatha, Iowa. "It's emotional, and all of this is great. But it does bring back a lot of memories of all the people I'd like to share this with who I can't. They gave everything for this country, and because of that, we're not going to be able to share this moment together."

Giunta, with his wife, Jenny, seated beside him, spoke from his current post in Vicenza, Italy, via a live satellite videoconference at the Pentagon. Giunta was chosen to receive the Medal of Honor for his extraordinary valor during a mission in one of the most dangerous areas of rugged eastern Afghanistan in 2007. Giunta, who serves in the Battle Company, 2nd Battalion, 503rd Infantry Regiment, 173rd Airborne Brigade Combat Team, will receive his medal at a White House ceremony, which has not been scheduled.

During the videoconference, Giunta told of the Oct. 25, 2007, attack, when insurgents ambushed him and his small rifle team of airborne soldiers. He said his platoon was watching over another unit from a ridgeline as it entered a village. Shortly after leaving the area, he said, they were attacked along a trail.

Giunta was knocked flat by the gunfire, but a well-aimed round failed to penetrate his armored chest plate. As the paratroopers scrambled for cover, Giunta reacted instinctively. He ran straight into the heart of the ambush to aid, one by one, three wounded soldiers who had been separated from the others.

Two paratroopers died in the attack, and most of the others suffered serious wounds. But the toll would have been far higher if not for Giunta's bravery, according to members of his unit and Army officials.

Giunta spoke humbly of his actions, saying at the videoconference, "I didn't run up to do anything heroic." He said he thought at the time, "Everybody's been shot at, and I might as well run forward."

"This was a situation we were put into," he said. "By no means did I do anything that others wouldn't have done."

Giunta enlisted in the Army in November 2003 and has deployed twice to Afghanistan. He and his wife said they hoped his award will bring more recognition for those serving in Iraq and Afghanistan and the sacrifices they make in being away from their families and in harm's way.

According to Pentagon statistics, six service members have received Medals of Honor, all posthumously, for operations since September 2001.

Giunta said he has kept in touch with the father of Sgt. Joshua Brennan, whom Giunta rescued from the Taliban but who died of injuries a day after the attack.

He said Brennan's father had "expressed his gratitude to me," but he noted that it was "hard to stomach."

"I'm glad we could bring Josh back, but I wish it were under different circumstances," he said.

Asked whether he thought he was a hero, Giunta said, "If I'm a hero, then every man who stands around me, every woman in the military, every person who defends this country is."


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