Wednesday, November 17, 2010

Hero Awarded The Medal of Honor

Washington (CNN) -- A 25-year-old Army staff sergeant from Iowa on Tuesday became the first living recipient of the Medal of Honor for a current conflict since three service members from the Vietnam War were honored in 1976. President Barack Obama awarded the nation's highest medal of valor to Staff Sgt. Salvatore Giunta -- the kind of soldier who leaves you "just absolutely convinced this is what America's all about," Obama said at the White House award ceremony. "It just makes you proud."

Hero though he is, Staff Sgt. Salvatore "Sal" Giunta does not want to be called a hero. Don't say that he went above the call of duty when he single-handedly stopped two terrorists from kidnapping his wounded buddy during a ferocious firefight in Afghanistan in 2007. Because as Giunta sees it, he was just doing his job. He didn't do anything that any other paratrooper in 1st Platoon, Battle Company, 173rd Airborne Brigade Combat Team -- or anyone in the United States military for that matter -- wouldn't have done, and he can't quite understand what all the fuss is about. He certainly doesn't think he deserves the Medal of Honor, which President Barack Obama presented to Giunta in a White House ceremony Tuesday afternoon -- making the seven-year Army veteran the first non-posthumous recipient of the medal since Vietnam."This could be any of us," Giunta said of receiving the nation's highest award for valor. "Right now, the Medal of Honor, I'm the one sitting here, but it could be any one of my buddies. It could be anyone in any of the services who are out there doing it every day. As for someone calling me a hero, I try not to think about it. I let the words fall away. It seems strange."

On Oct. 19, 2007, Giunta and his buddies, the men of Battle Company, were on a Mission, Operation Rock Avalanche and were dropped deep into insurgent territory. They were on a mission to not only look for weapons caches, but also to win a few hearts and minds. Firefights were to be expected, but they did not expect it turn into a fierce battle. No one could have predicted the intensity of bombings and fighting that followed that left several 2nd Platoon Soldiers injured or dead, including two of Giunta's closest friends.

Guinta's good friend, Sgt. Josh Brennan was walking point when he was wounded and being dragged away by two enemy fighters. "I didn't understand what was going on," Giunta recalled. "I'll think about that moment a lot. That was something I never thought I would see in the military. It was difficult to see. Just reaction -- that's all you really have time to do, but after sitting on it for three years, it's more emotional to me now than I think it was to me then." Many, including his good friend, Medic SPC Hugo Mendoza, tried to rescue Sgt. Brennan from his captors. SPC Mendoza lost his life in his effort. Sgt. Guinta succeeded in rescuing his friend Josh. It was a part of the Warrior Ethos Giunta didn't have to think twice about, because it went without saying that he couldn't leave Brennan and that Brennan wouldn't leave him, that any of the Soldiers in the unit would do the same. So yelling for help and still under heavy fire, Giunta charged forward alone and fired the 15 or 20 rounds remaining in his M4, killing one of the insurgents and wounding the other. Brennan survived for that day, but died of his injuries the next day.

However, Giunta did more than save Brennan. The true nightmare of any leader is a Soldier missing in action, and Giunta prevented that. "They would have definitely taken him to a lot worse place. There's no way we would have come out of that valley without Brennan. We would have fought tooth and nail to find his body or find Brennan." Giunta definitely saved a lot more lives that night.

1 comment:

Carmen said...

I love stories about brave Americans! Especially from my home state of Iowa.

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