Nov. 17, 2010 - Hall of Heroes Induction Ceremony for Staff Sgt. Sal Giunta
December 2, 2010
Good morning everyone. Thank you for coming out here and joining us as we honor SSG Sal Giunta and the Giunta family. I'll begin by welcoming the Giunta Family. SSG Giunta and Jennifer -- and anyone with us here this morning knows they are a great team, and they're just about ten days past their first wedding 1st anniversary. So, Jen -- [it's] great to have you here.
I'd like to recognize his dad Steve and his mother, Rosemary, sitting beside him. And, down at the end of the row -- his grandparents ... Bob and Molly. You all are the ones who instilled in Sal the values that made him the man that he is today. So, thank you for that.
His younger and taller Brother ... Mario (laughter) -- sitting next to Rosemary -- good to have you here. And, his sister -- Katie. Katie is a new mother. [Her daughter] Sophia is about 3 weeks old. So, it's great to have the whole Giunta Family here with us.
Jennifer's family is also in the row behind them ... her mom, dad, brother, their spouses, and her grandmother -- it's great to have you here with us as well.
Secretary Gates, Secretary McHugh, Sergeant Major Preston, Gordon Sullivan -- how are you' Sully has finally surfaced after our annual Association of the United States Army convention -- great to have you back here with us. And all the members of the Secretary of Defense's [office] and Army Secretariat -- great to see you. Beth Chiarelli -- nice to have you here. Her husband -- Pete -- my Vice, is taking on great sacrifice for me -- he's in Australia making a speech I was supposed to be doing.
I'd also like to recognize some former Medal of Honor Recipients here -- I saw [LTG (Ret)] Bob Foley, and I think LTC [USAF Ret] Leo Thorsness, and [COL (Ret) HC] "Barney" Barnum are here also -- thank you gentlemen.
I know you'll be able to offer Sal all kinds of great practical tips, like: when you're wearing your medal, don't reach across the soup for the salt and pepper.
I'd also like to especially recognize the families of SGT Josh Brennan and SPC Hugo Mendoza -- members of the platoon [who] were killed that day. We owe your Families a debt of gratitude for the sacrifice that these great Soldiers made. So, can I ask you to stand up please so we can recognize you'
Yesterday, SSG Sal Giunta became a part of the history of our Army and of our country. And, today, he will be enshrined in our Hall of Heroes -- a place of honor that serves as a reminder of how lucky we are [as a country] to have generations of ordinary Americans who have made extraordinary sacrifices for this country and their comrades. Over 3400 Americans are enshrined there; 2400 of them are Soldiers.
When I think about the Hall of Heroes, which is actually just down the corridor from here, and I think about the heroes who are honored there, and I think about the history that they represent -- I'm struck by how lucky we are as a country to have generation after generation of men and women who believe so strongly in the values and ideals that this country stands for that they are willing to put their lives on the line to secure them. And, I am humbled to be part of an Army that attracts and produces men and women like SSG Sal Giunta.
Of the 389 Soldiers, Sailors, Airmen and Marines who have received the Medal of Honor since World War II -- 65 years ago -- only one-third of them have received this great honor "in person." And, since this war began 9 years ago, Sal Giunta is the first to personally receive the Medal for these on-going operations. So, today, we are especially thankful.
This morning, SSG Giunta's name will stand next to those American heroes who built our Nation and continue to define our Army -- Joshua Chamberlain, Sgt York, Audie Murphy, and 15 brother paratroopers from one of our most storied units -- the 173rd Airborne Brigade.
I'm a little old to be a paratrooper these days, but I sure like being around people who do jump out of airplanes.
But, paratroopers like PVT Lloyd McCarter and SGT Ray Eubanks who earned their Medals of Honor in the Pacific during WWII; and 13 others from Vietnam -- including SP6 Lawrence Joel who -- when he was awarded the Medal of Honor by President Johnson in 1967, became the first living black recipient of the Medal of Honor since the Spanish-American War. And, SPC Al Rascon, who earned his Medal of Honor as a medic during intense combat operations in Long Khanh Province in 1966. And, after recovering from his multiple wounds, he was discharged from the Army in 1967. In 1970, he came back in the Army as an Infantry officer -- and he went back to Vietnam. All told, "Doc" Rascon's service to our Nation and our Army has spanned 5 decades -- culminating in tours in Iraq and Afghanistan as a Medical Service Officer.
From the day he joined our Army -- 7 years ago last Saturday -- SSG Sal Giunta's leadership skills were readily apparent. He made Sergeant in four years and was a Veteran of two tours in Afghanistan by the time he was 22 years old. He is the embodiment of our Warrior Ethos: I will always place the mission first ... I will never accept defeat ... I will never quit ... and, I will never leave a fallen comrade.
And, to give you an idea of just how true that is, I want to share with you a passage from Sebastian Junger's recent book -- "WAR" -- that chronicled the tough work that Battle Company did in the Korengal Valley in 2007 and 2008. In writing about what Sal did that day, here's what Junger said:
"Wars are won or lost because of the aggregate effect of thousands of decisions like that during firefights that often last only minutes or seconds. An untrained civilian would have experienced those 10 or 15 seconds as a disorienting barrage of light and noise and probably have spent most of it curled up on the ground. An entire platoon of men who react that way would undoubtedly die to the last man."
-- Now, let me put 15 seconds in perspective for you -- that's how long it took me to read those last two sentences [to you].
Junger continues: "Giunta, on the other hand, used those 15 seconds to assign rates and sectors of fire to his team, run to Gallardo's (his squad leader) assistance, assess the direction of a round that hit him in the chest and then throw 3 grenades while assaulting an enemy position. Every man in that platoon -- even the ones who were wounded -- acted as purposefully and efficiently as Giunta did."
"I guess I did what I did because that's what I was trained to do," Giunta told me. "There was a task that had to be done, and the part that I was gonna do was to link Alpha and Bravo teams. I didn't run through fire to save my 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."
What a great statement of the ethos that Sal lives by and that binds our Army together after 9 years at war. And Sal, I'd just say that ANYONE might not have done what you did, but maybe just anyone who happened to be an American paratrooper.
What the men and women of our armed forces have accomplished in 9 years of war -- in Iraq, Afghanistan and elsewhere -- has been remarkable. And, make no doubt about it -- these accomplishments are grounded in the bond of trust and commitment to one another that is personified in First Platoon's action that day. So, can I have all the members of First Platoon who were there that day please stand and be recognized'
Thank you ... thanks very much. It's that bond of trust that makes us what we are today -- the best Army in the world.
Now, let me just say that because of his courageous actions, Sal Giunta will be forever celebrated as an American hero. Years from now, when [3-week old] Sophia is in school, when she and her classmates learn the stories of the men and women who made America great -- who built our Nation and protected it in its' darkest hours -- they'll study her uncle -- his story, his life, and his legacy of courage. And Sal is going to have to come to grips with that, because -- as you know -- he's a very humble guy.
His humility and commitment to his comrades is best captured in his own words. I found these on-line yesterday. They are from an interview with Martha Raddatz, of ABC news. And by the way, I notice that you [Sal] are faring much better on the evening news than I usually do (laughter), so maybe I could borrow your coach there [Jennifer].
Anyway, here's what Sal said: "I've never been to combat alone. I've never been to a firefight alone. I've never been shot at alone. And, since I've been in the Army, I've never been left alone. And all of that, and this is -- this Medal -- is for everyone who's ever served with me, and touched my life, and supported me, and showing me what right looks like, and I'd like to thank them."
No Sal, we'd like to thank you for showing us what is best about our Army and what's best about America. We wish you, and Jen and your entire family a happy and prosperous future. Thank you.