On a date to be determined by the White House, the first living recipient in a war since Vietnam, Staff Sergeant (SSGT) Salvatore Giunta, United States Army, will receive the Medal of Honor. Giunta, 25, is a native of Iowa, and enlisted in the Army in November 2003. He deployed twice to Afghanistan, and currently is stationed in Vicenza, Italy.
Notice the word “recipient” in the sentence above…there is no such thing as a Medal of Honor winner. True men do not seek to earn such awards and indeed in the horror of combat it is impossible to plan such deeds. All Medal of Honor recipients will tell you that they wear the medal for all those who will never receive it. They were just doing what they thought needed to be done at the time. Recipients know that many other unselfish deeds of servicemen and women are just as worthy of Medal of Honor consideration, but because of the incredible circumstances of combat, their deeds and stories will never be told or remembered. Staff Sergeant Giunta’s story, like other Medal of Honor recipients, just happens to be one of those that will be told.
SSGT Giunta’s story begins in the Korengal Valley of Afghanistan on 25 October 2007. As he and his company were returning to base from a fire fight the previous day, they were ambushed by the enemy. Giunta was fourth in line as they were moving, and he jumped into a ditch when the firing started. He couldn’t figure out why they were getting hit from where his buddies had been leading up ahead. Giunta knew it must be bad, and as he stood up to check, immediately he was hit by a bullet in his armored chest plate…down he went. His patrol was taking fire from three sides. Giunta grabbed some grenades: “I couldn’t throw as far as Sergeant Gallardo. We were looking like retards and I decided to run out in front of the grenades.” He found his first buddy Eckrode with gunshot wounds. “He was down but moving and trying to fix his SAW” — a heavy machine gun — “so I just kept on running up the trail. It was cloudy. I was running and saw dudes. Plural.”
Giunta didn’t know who they were, but quickly determined they were dragging his buddy Sergeant Joshua Brennan off through the forest. “I started shooting,” he recalled. “I emptied that magazine. They dropped Brennan.” He scrambled up to Brennan and discovered one of his closest friends was a mess. “He was still conscious. He was breathing. He was asking for morphine. I said, ‘You’ll get out and tell your hero stories,’ and he was like, ‘I will, I will.’ ”
Sergeant Joshua C. Brennan would not make it home alive. He died on the medivac helicopter as it flew him out of the Korengal Valley. In the interviews below you can see the discomfort SSGT Giunta feels as he is asked to tell his story. He doesn’t feel like a hero. Everyday he remembers his friend, and only wants, as the old soldier in Saving Private Ryan says to his wife in the final scene, “Tell me I’ve led a good life. Tell me that I’m a good man.” That is Giunta’s quest now.
The Congressional Medal of Honor Society’s convention will convene 29 September 2010 in Charleston and will have a luncheon and book signing on the Yorktown on 30 September from 1:30 to 4:30 p.m.