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For Medal of Honor recipient, retelling his story isn't easy

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Giunta was tight with Brennan; they trained together and traveled around Italy, where they were based. "He was athletic, smart, funny, always someone you could count on," he says. As for Mendoza, a medic: "He truly cared about other people more than he did about himself."

It was a moonlit night on Oct. 25, 2007, when enemy forces formed an L-shaped ambush around Giunta's platoon in the Korengal Valley in eastern Afghanistan, a dangerous strip of land that served as a key route for al-Qaeda to move weapons, fighters and money from Pakistan.

Brennan and another soldier were hit first. When Staff Sgt. Erick Gallardo ran through an open area to link up with them, he was stopped by a barrage of gunfire. Moving toward Giunta, he was struck, a round from an AK-47 dinging off his helmet and temporarily disorienting him.

Giunta jumped up, exposing himself to rockets and enemy fire, to help Gallardo. One bullet then smashed into Giunta's armor, pushing him back. Another shattered the weapon slung across his back.

He didn't stop.

Giunta and his comrades regrouped, throwing grenades and charging forward. When Giunta, who was a rifle team leader, realized that Brennan was missing, he raced ahead and saw two insurgents carrying the wounded sergeant by his arms and legs.

Giunta, alone and without cover, shot and killed one of the insurgents; the other ran away. Giunta dragged Brennan by the vest to safety. He tried to stop the bleeding, tried to comfort his friend. Someday, Giunta told the mortally wounded soldier, he'd be telling hero stories.

Gallardo says he later told Giunta: "You don't understand . . . but what you did was pretty crazy. We were outnumbered. You stopped the fight. You stopped them from taking a soldier."

"Unbelievable what he did that night," Gallardo added. "I know he's going to hate me for saying this, but he's the face of the war now."

In a White House ceremony in November, President Obama heralded Giunta's "unwavering courage, selflessness and decisive leadership."

Giunta, though, refuses to take credit for any extraordinary feats. "I did my job and I did it to the best of my ability," he says. "I did whatever everyone else did."

Giunta knew soon after the ambush that he'd been recommended for the medal, and he's had three years to prepare and reflect on his fate.


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