In a White House ceremony Tuesday, President Barack Obama awarded the Medal of Honor to Staff Sgt. Salvatore Giunta
for putting his life on the line for fellow soldiers
in Afghanistan three years ago.
Giunta, of Iowa, becomes the first living recipient of the nation's highest military honor since the Vietnam War.
After delivering introductory remarks, Obama said he wanted to "go off script here for a second."
"I really like this guy," the president said. Cheers erupted in the audience, which included Giunta's wife, parents and siblings.
"We all just get a sense of people and who they are, and when you meet Sal and you meet his family, you are just absolutely convinced that this is what America is all about. And it just makes you proud," Obama said. "And so this is a joyous occasion for me -- something that I have been looking forward to."
Also in attendance were military officials, members of Congress and the administration, as well as previous Medal of Honor recipients and soldiers from Giunta's Army battle company.
Obama quoted one of Giunta's commanding officers, who told the young soldier before deployment, "You've just got to try and do everything you can, when it's your time to do it."
Giunta's "time came on Oct. 25, 2007, when he was 22 years old," the president said, going on to describe his heroism in Afghanistan's Korengal Valley, where he risked his life to protect his fellow soldiers.
Before Obama hung the distinctive gold star around Giunta's neck, the award's official citation was read aloud. It reads:
Then-Specialist Salvatore A. Giunta distinguished himself by acts of gallantry at the risk of his life above and beyond the call of duty while serving as a rifle team leader with Company B, 2d Battalion (Airborne), 503d Infantry Regiment during combat operations against an armed enemy in the Korengal Valley, Afghanistan on October 25, 2007. When an insurgent force ambush split Specialist Giunta's squad into two groups, he exposed himself to enemy fire to pull a comrade back to cover. Later, while engaging the enemy and attempting to link up with the rest of his squad, Specialist Giunta noticed two insurgents carrying away a fellow soldier. He immediately engaged the enemy, killing one and wounding the other, and provided medical aid to his wounded comrade while the rest of his squad caught up and provided security. His courage and leadership while under extreme enemy fire were integral to his platoon's ability to defeat an enemy ambush and recover a fellow American paratrooper from enemy hands.