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Army Sgt. Salvatore Giunta Earns Medal of Honor for Afghan Firefight

3 years ago
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David Wood
Chief Military Correspondent
Three years ago and 7,000 miles away, on a cold, rocky mountainside in Afghanistan, Sal Giunta fought inside a hailstorm of bullets to save his buddies. Today, a nation that can scarcely imagine the circumstances of his heroism, or share the motivation for it, awards him its highest military tribute, the Medal of Honor.

At the White House on Tuesday, President Barack Obama will award Staff Sgt. Salvatore Giunta the distinctive gold star with a neckband of blue with a field of white stars, for "great personal bravery'' in combat. Giunta's wife, Jennifer, and his parents, Steven and Rosemary Giunta, will be present at the ceremony.

Giunta, 25, joined the Army seven years ago on an impulse. He was working nights at a Subway in Hiawatha, Iowa, and heard a recruiting jingle promising a free T-shirt. In a flash he'd gone through basic and advanced infantry training and was sent to Battle Company, 503rd Infantry Regiment, 173rd Airborne Brigade, and on to two combat tours in Afghanistan totaling 27 months. Four of his buddies were killed early in his first deployment, blown up by an IED, a roadside bomb. On his second deployment, Battle Co. was sent into the Korengal Valley, a small (six miles long and a mile wide) but deadly strip of steep, mountainous terrain where American troops were regularly chewed up by Taliban insurgents.

As Giunta and his buddies struggled through the daily firefights and attacks in the Korengal, his four-year Army hitch was completed. But the Army, using a process known as "stop-loss,'' prevented him from going home until Battle Co.'s 12-month tour was completed.

On Oct. 25, 2007, two platoons of Battle Co., walking patrol at about 8,000 feet high in the Korengal, were suddenly trapped in an L-shaped ambush, a classic enemy maneuver that brought them under fire from two sides. A firefight exploded. "Tracers, bullets, RPGs [rocket-propelled grenades], snaps, pops, cracks, explosions, wings, zings, dings . . . '' is how Giunta recalled it in an interview with CBS's "60 Minutes.''

Sgt. Giunta and his men could see the muzzle flashes in the dusk, bearded men firing at them from within the distance you could throw a baseball, he said. Soldiers dropped, wounded. Giunta took a round to his chest -- the bullets stopped by the ceramic plate in his body armor. Through the smoke and flash-bang of detonating grenades, Giunta suddenly spotted his good buddy, Sgt. Joshua Brennan, badly wounded and being carried away by two Taliban, dragging Brennan by his hands and feet. Brennan was a tough soldier. The son of two military police, he'd been wounded once before in Afghanistan, and had won the Bronze Star for bravery in combat. But now he needed help badly.

Without thinking, Giunta charged head-on into the Taliban guns, shooting and throwing grenades. One of his soldiers was shot four times, but grabbed Giunta from the ground. "They have him!'' he cried, meaning Brennan. Sprinting, Giunta shot one of the two Talibs carrying Brennan, and the other, who may have been mortally wounded, staggered off. When Giunta got to Brennan, he was conscious, badly wounded in the lower jaw.

Brennan was drifting in and out of consciousness, but he was aware that he'd been rescued from the Taliban. "He knew we were there,'' Giunta told "60 Minutes." They carried Brennan to safety and he was lifted up and away by a medevac chopper. The ambush-firefight had lasted three minutes. Later that night, Joshua Brennan died in surgery; he was 22 years old.

Less than 36 months later, in the spring of 2010, American commanders ordered the last U.S. troops out of the Korengal Valley, declaring it not worth the cost to keep.

Giunta will be the first living recipient of the Medal of Honor since Vietnam. He joins 86 other living veterans who have been so honored. Within the very small community of Americans who have served in combat, they are an even smaller, elite brotherhood. Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates, speaking recently to students at Duke University, referred to those who have served in wartime "a tiny sliver of America [that] has achieved extraordinary things under the most trying circumstances.

"No major war in our history has been fought with a smaller percentage of this country's citizens in uniform full time,'' Gates said: roughly 2.4 million active and reserve service members serve in uniform, out of a country of more than 300 million -- less than 1 percent.

Obama himself called Giunta in September to tell him that he'd been selected for the Medal of Honor. But the staff sergeant seems reluctant to bask in the attention. Asked how he felt about being an American hero, he told "60 Minutes:" "I'm not at peace with that at all . . . people wanting to shake my hand . . . hurts me. To be with so many people doing so much stuff [in Afghanistan] and then to be singled out and put forward . . .''

He shook his head. "Everyone did something . . . I'm average, I'm mediocre. This was only one moment. I don't think I did anything anybody else wouldn't have done. I was in a position to do it, it needed to be done, so that's what I did.''

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15 Comments

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jane48doe

This man is the salt and light of the earth. I wish our politicians would take a good look at what true sacrifice, patriotism and humility looks like. God Bless him and all our faithful servicemen. We need more people like them!

November 27 2010 at 12:01 AM Report abuse +1 rate up rate down Reply
wra3577984

What words can we possibly use to convey our profound thoughts of pride and wonder when hearing of the brave deeds and self sacrifice these young men and women like this young Paratrooper, who give their all to our country for our freedom, for me, it’s beyond words, but a loud; THANK YOU is a beginning. An Old Soldier with a kind thought, and a silent prayer for all the Men and Women serving in the uniform of our country. WFR

November 20 2010 at 12:17 PM Report abuse +2 rate up rate down Reply
Steve Brackett

Congrats to SSG Giunta for his heroic bravery in being awarded the Medal of Honor. This is the most prestigious honor to be bestowed on a military personnel. Your love of Country, Honor, and brotherhood of your fellow soldiers makes you one of the finest examples of being an American. I wish all young men of 18 was required to serve in our Armed Forces. There would be an awe over this land, with the respect and honor that would be learned by each. The streets would be safe, because of the reverence our young men would have for America.....Once again, young soldier, Congrats.... Vietnam era Vet, US ARMY

November 16 2010 at 3:22 PM Report abuse +1 rate up rate down Reply
flyingwisconsin

I thank all members of our nation's armed forces,with special thanks to that elite group Giunta has just become a member of. USCG Retired

November 16 2010 at 11:48 AM Report abuse +4 rate up rate down Reply
Don

As a veteran, with twenty seven years service, and three tours in combat in Vietnam, I bristle when I read a soldier "wins" the Medal of Honor. No soldier goes into combat with the intention of winning a medal for valor. This soldier, and all other Medal of Honor awardees has been "awarded" the Medal of Honor for service above and beyond the call of duty.

November 16 2010 at 10:36 AM Report abuse +3 rate up rate down Reply
1 reply to Don's comment
wra3577984

DITTO........for your information, I sent the following to the Denver Post: Wednesday, November 17, 2010 Denver Post: For your information, the President of the United States of America does not have the power to award the Medal of Horner to any recipient. The President simply presents the award to the person who has been awarded the award. WFR

November 20 2010 at 12:01 PM Report abuse +1 rate up rate down Reply
Hello slag bag

It is truly amazing that such young men possess such incredible bravery. As a serviceman, my only wish would be that Sgt Brennan survived.

November 16 2010 at 10:14 AM Report abuse +2 rate up rate down Reply
mjsjr52

I totally agree with crabbychief. Sergeant, you put on a great display of personal bravery and courage under fire. You deserve the gratitude of your Country and the recognition which accompanies it. Very well done, Soldier. Congratulations.

November 16 2010 at 8:26 AM Report abuse +8 rate up rate down Reply
Ross

Sounds like our strategy in Viet Nam - fight and lose lives to capture an area just to abandon it just because the higher-ups decide it wasn't worth it to stay. Within a day or two, all the "insurgents" would be back. Yeah, worked in Viet Nam, so why wouldn't it work in Afghanistan?

November 16 2010 at 8:20 AM Report abuse -6 rate up rate down Reply
ATOPSERGEANT

I am not surprised by this young SSG's actions. We teach our young soldiers to depend on one another and work as a team. We're one big family. 1SG, US Army Retired

November 16 2010 at 5:01 AM Report abuse +8 rate up rate down Reply
rscott1797

I don't think he won a metal,, you dont win a medal on the battle feild,, it is not a contest, who ever wrote the lead in to this article wrote it as if it were a game our men and women are doing. He volunteered to serve our country, was recognized as a hero and was awarded a metal. There is a difference. A BIG Thank you to all our service personel, both men and women for performing the some times impossible task of serving our coutry G DAY

November 16 2010 at 3:04 AM Report abuse +9 rate up rate down Reply

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