WASHINGTON — President Barack Obama presented the Medal of Honor Tuesday to the first Soldier currently serving and second living recipient in nearly 40 years.
Staff Sgt. Salvatore Giunta was described as a humble, low-key Soldier — one that shies away from the limelight. But his actions on Oct. 25, 2007, were anything but low-key when he refused to let enemy fighters carry off a fellow wounded Soldier in Afghanistan.
Giunta, then a 22-year-old specialist serving as a rifle team leader with B Company, 2nd Battalion (Airborne), 503rd Infantry Regiment, 173rd Airborne Brigade Combat Team, individually pursued two insurgents who had captured a badly wounded Sgt. Joshua Brennan during a deadly firefight. Giunta killed one insurgent and injured the other, and immediately began to administer first aid to Brennan, all while under heavy enemy fire.
It was this act of rare bravery that saved lives and warranted receipt of the medal, Obama said.
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Yet Giunta doesn’t seem to see it that way, and feels that he did what any Soldier in his place would have done.
The president quoted Giunta as saying, “If I am a hero, then every man who stands around me, every woman in the military, every person who defends this country is.”
Obama agreed with Giunta’s sentiment that every military member is heroic, but added that Giunta is genuinely a homegrown hero.
“I’m going to go off script here for a second, and just say I really like this guy,” Obama quipped, resulting in cheers from the audience. “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.”
Previously, in the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, the Medal of Honor — the nation’s highest military decoration — had been given seven times, all posthumously.
“Staff Sergeant Giunta, repeatedly and without hesitation, you charged forward through extreme enemy fire, embodying the warrior ethos that says, “I will never leave a fallen comrade,” Obama said. “You may believe that you don’t deserve this honor, but it was your fellow Soldiers who recommended you for it.”
The Iowa native and paratrooper who attended One Station Unit Training at Fort Benning early in his career said he was just doing his job.
“I’m incredibly proud of my service I’ve given blood, sweat and tears for this country and I know some great men and women that have died for this country,” Giunta said.
“I’m glad that I can say I’m part of the stars and stripes and the men and women that serve every single day,” he said.
Obama said he is proud of America’s service members, as they repeatedly do everything their nation calls them to do.
“This medal today is a testament to his uncommon valor, but also to the parents and the community that raised him; the military that trained him; and all the men and women who served by his side,” Obama said. “All of them deserve our enduring thanks and gratitude.”
Giunta is the fourth recipient from the War in Afghanistan, after Navy Lt. Michael P. Murphy, Sgt. 1st Class Jared C. Monti and Staff Sgt. Robert James Miller.
Editor’s note: Senator Dan Inouye, of Hawaii, was awarded the Medal of Honor in 2000 for his actions in World War II. He was the first living recipient since 1976.