By Elizabeth M. CollinsOctober 19, 2010
WASHINGTON (Army News Service, Oct. 19, 2010) - The White House announced Monday that President Barack Obama will award the first non-posthumous Medal of Honor since Vietnam in a ceremony Nov. 16.
The nation's top award for conspicuous gallantry in combat will go to Staff Sgt. Salvatore Giunta, currently assigned to the Rear Detachment for Battle Company, 2nd Battalion, 503rd Infantry, 173rd Airborne Brigade Combat Team in Camp Ederle, Italy.
"It's bittersweet, because it's such a huge, huge honor, and right now the 173rd's deployed, and they are doing the same thing they did, everything that's asked for them, in Afghanistan, all over again," Giunta told Pentagon reporters last month. "And that's where a lot of my friends are right now. So for me to fully, you know, accept this, I have to have everyone who's been by me every time I needed them, and that's really my brothers-in-arms.
"It's emotional and it's great. All of this is great. But it does bring back ... a lot of memories of all the people I would love to share this moment with and I'm not going to because they're no longer with us, and they gave everything for their country."
While still a specialist, Giunta was deployed with Battle Company's 1st Platoon to Afghanistan's remote Korengal Valley. It was widely considered to be one of the most difficult and dangerous assignments of the war, and Anti-Afghan Forces fired at the unit on a near-daily basis.
On the evening of Oct. 25, 2007, 1st Platoon was returning to the Korengal Outpost when it encountered a devastating L-shaped ambush that wounded Sgt. Joshua Brennan and Spc. Franklin Eckrode and isolated them from the rest of the squad.
Giunta ran into enemy fire to drag his squad leader, Staff Sgt. Erik Gallardo, to safety after Gallardo was struck in the helmet, before the two Soldiers advanced to Brennan and Eckrode's location, facing overwhelming firepower, and with little cover except a few hand grenades.
When they reached Eckrode, Brennan -- one of Giunta's best friends --was missing, and Giunta saw two insurgents dragging him away. Running far in advance of his squad, Giunta killed one insurgent, and wounded the other, before providing buddy aid until a medevac helicopter could arrive.
Brennan died on the way to surgery, and the unit's medic, Spc. Hugo Mendoza, was also killed during the firefight. Later reports said that every man in the platoon was killed, wounded or at least shot through his clothes, including Giunta, whose chest plate was shot.
When asked about the upcoming honor, Giunta is quick to say he doesn't deserve it more than any other Soldier.
"I think ... everyone was doing everything they were trained (to do). There was no thought to it. I wasn't thinking the process through, you know, the battle drill. Just execute, execute. .." he told American Forces Network shortly after the president called him with the news last month.
"If I'm a hero, every man that stands around me, every woman in the military, everyone who goes into the unknown is a hero," he added at the Pentagon press briefing.