SIMI VALLEY, Calif. (Army News Service, Nov. 17, 2014) -- Former Army Staff Sgt. Salvatore A. Giunta, who in 2010 became the first living Medal of Honor recipient since the Vietnam War, says he is not a hero.
"It makes me feel awkward. I struggled with it for a long time," Giunta said about being called a hero.
Giunta, who received the Medal of Honor for his heroic actions in Afghanistan, participated in a panel discussion at the Reagan National Defense Forum at the Ronald Reagan Presidential Library here, yesterday.
"It's almost been four years since I've been out of the military and the fact that someone would call me personally a hero seems inappropriate," he said.
DISCUSSION ON HEROISM, VALOR
All the Soldiers worked together and fought together, Giunta said during the panel discussion about military heroism and valor.
"Nothing I ever did, did I do alone. I followed what someone told me to do and someone followed me," he said.
"I've served with heroes. We can be heroes. I am no hero," he said.
Giunta's received the Medal of Honor for his actions during a fierce battle following an enemy ambush in Afghanistan's Korengal Valley, in October 2007. Two U.S. Soldiers, Sgt. Joshua Brennan and Spc. Hugo Mendoza, were killed in the attack.
"October 25th, 2007, was my date of action that I would receive this award. My life didn't change other than I lost two good friends," Giunta said.
He said his life did "change drastically" in 2010, when the recognition of what he did became public.
MEDAL OF HONOR IS 'AWESOME RESPONSIBILITY'
He said it is not a burden to have the Medal of Honor, but rather an "awesome responsibility."
Giunta, then a specialist with Company B, 2nd Battalion (Airborne), 503rd Infantry Regiment, exposed himself to heavy enemy fire to aid a fellow Soldier he believed was injured during the ambush.
He engaged the enemy and advanced up a hill alone and under fire. Giunta saw two insurgents carrying away a gravely injured Brennan. Giunta killed one of the insurgents and prevented the enemy from taking Brennan.
"When I was told I was going to receive the Medal of Honor, it hurt my feelings. I was so angry. I was so upset," he said.
"The fact that I did this with everyone and you want to put an award around my neck and slap me on the back and tell me 'congratulations,' when I didn't do it alone," Giunta explained.
"Two of my buddies gave every single-one of their tomorrows so I could have a today, and you're going to put a medal around my neck? I struggled with that," he said.
TERM 'HERO' NOT TAKEN LIGHTLY
The Army wants to know what makes a hero, according to Army Gen. David G. Perkins, the commanding general of U.S. Army Training and Doctrine Command.
"This term 'hero' we don't take lightly," Perkins said during the panel discussion. "We actually think about it quite a bit, and try to figure out what is it that makes one."
A hero is someone, in the face of adversity or danger and from a position of weakness, displays a will for self-sacrifice for the betterment of others, he said.
Perkins said Giunta did all of that during the battle.
"Valor is really the strength of mind and will to face danger and stand firm in the face of it," he said. "You have to possess valor to act in a heroic manner."
Giunta is an example of that, Perkins said.
"The medal that Sergeant Giunta wears is not the 'Medal of Heroism,' it's called the Medal of Honor," Perkins said.
It is a great honor to be an officer who salutes a Medal of Honor recipient, Retired Air Force Gen. Paul Hester said.
"A sergeant wearing the Medal of Honor no longer offers his salute to an officer; the officer offers his salute to the Medal of Honor recipient," Hester said.
"A prouder moment for me as a one-star was when I stood at the bottom of the ramp of an airplane and [Army] Master Sgt. Roy Benavidez came to my base, Medal of Honor recipient from Vietnam, for me to stand there and offer him the salute as he came down the stairs," he said.
"It is a true honor," Hester said.
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