The Medal of Honor will be awarded for the first time to a living veteran of the wars in Iraq or Afghanistan, White House officials announced Sept. 10 in a written statement.
Staff Sgt. Salvatore Giunta received a phone call from President Barack Obama on Sept. 9 thanking him for his service. Obama informed the infantryman that he would receive the nation’s highest award for his service and extraordinary bravery in battle, the statement said.
The event occurred Oct. 25, 2007, in eastern Afghanistan’s Korengal Valley. Giunta was a specialist at the time and rifle team leader. He served in Company B, 2nd Battalion, 503rd Airborne Infantry Regiment, 173rd Airborne Brigade Combat Team, based out of Vicenza, Italy.
Giunta overcame being separated from his unit, evaded potential enemy captors and risked his life to rescue two fellow soldiers. His unit was divided during the gun battle. One fellow soldier was exposed to enemy fire when Giunta left his cover to pull the soldier to safety.
The enemy continued to engage Giunta and the soldier as they worked to link up with their squad. During the movement, Giunta noticed two insurgents carrying the second soldier, trying to take him captive.
Giunta immediately engaged the combatants, killing one and wounding another. He provided medical aid to the soldier while others provided security. The soldier eventually died of his wounds, but Giunta’s actions prevented him from staying in enemy hands.
In an interview with Sebastian Junger, who was embedded with Giunta’s company, and published in the book "War," he said he was hit in the ceramic chest plate of his body armor and knocked down as the ambush began.
As he told Junger, "I didn’t run through fire to save a buddy – I ran through fire to see what was going on with him and maybe we could hide behind the same rock and shoot together. I didn’t run through fire to do anything heroic or brave. I did what I believe anyone would have done."
The event came during Giunta’s second tour in Afghanistan. He had received the Purple Heart during his first deployment.
Giunta told the New York Times, "It was one of the worst days of my life, and when I revisted it, it kind of guts me a little bit more."
He added in the interview, "I entered the Army when I was 18, and I’m 25 now. I became a man in the Army."
The White House statement did not say when Giunta will receive his medal.
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. He will become the eighth Medal of Honor recipient for actions in operations Iraqi Freedom and Enduring Freedom.
(Story is based on an American Forces Press Service story.)