Iowa native Sal Giunta never meant to be a hero. In the midst of a battle, he did what he had to do. And, on Nov. 16, 2010, President Barak Obama presented him with his nation’s highest award for valor in battle, the Medal of Honor.
22-year-old then-Specialist Giunta became a hero in a dusty corner of Afghanistan on Oct. 25, 2007. Serving with Company B, 2nd Battalion, 503rd Infantry Regiment, 173rd Airborne Brigade Combat Team, he and his fellow paratroopers were on patrol in the deadly Korengal Valley. They were on their way home, back to their outpost, navigating goat trails in the moonlight.
The enemy sprang a well-planned ambush. The six men became separated, with two men cut off at the front of the squad. As the others moved forward under heavy fire, they found one wounded comrade. Team leader Sgt. Joshua Brennan was missing. Giunta and Pfc. Garrett Clary raced forward to see two men attempting to carry Brennan off.
The Battle Narrative reads:
“Moving in the lead and rapidly closing with the enemy, despite receiving effective fire, Spc. Giunta overtook two enemy combatants attempting to drag off Sgt. Brennan, who had been incapacitated by his wounds. Spc. Giunta engaged one enemy combatant at close range and killed him, which cause the other enemy combatant to drop Sgt. Brennan and flee. Spc. Giunta then began immediate first aid on Sgt. Brennan, and also helped his squad leader to adjust security, further consolidate casualties, and prepare for Medical Evacuation operations. “
The Citation for the award of the Medal of Honor continues:
“Specialist Giunta’s unwavering courage, selflessness, and decisive leadership while under extreme enemy fire were integral to his platoon’s ability to defeat an enemy ambush and recover a fellow American soldier from the enemy. Specialist Salvatore A. Giunta’s extraordinary heroism and selflessness above and beyond the call of duty are in keeping with the highest traditions of military service and reflect great credit upon himself, Company B, 2d Battalion (Airborne), 503d Infantry Regiment, and the United States Army.”
Giunta grew up in Iowa and joined the Army in 2003. He has two younger siblings and is married to his wife, Jennifer. He has been promoted since Afghanistan and is now a Staff Sargent. He has served two combat tours in Afghanistan and this battle happened on his second tour.
The Medal of Honor is not his first medal. He has received the Bronze Star Medal, Purple Heart, Army Commendation Medal, Army Achievement Medal, Army Good Conduct Medal, National Defense Service Medal, Afghanistan Campaign Medal, Global War on Terrorism Service Medal, Army Service Ribbon and NATO Service Medal.
In his remarks at the award ceremony, President Obama went off script to say “when you meet Sal and you meet his family, you are just absolutely convinced that this is what America is all about.”
This is the first Medal of Honor to be awarded to a living soldier since Vietnam. The seven Medals previously awarded for bravery in Iraq and Afghanistan were presented posthumously.