By Maj. Gen. James M. MilanoDecember 2, 2010
FORT JACKSON, S.C. -- A couple of weeks ago, important military history was being made, and I want to ensure none of you missed it.
Staff Sgt. Salvatore Giunta received the Medal of Honor from President Barack Obama. He became the first living recipient to receive the nation's highest military award since the war in Vietnam ended more than 35 years ago. Giunta distinguished himself in Afghanistan by braving heavy enemy fire, and risking his life to save his fellow Soldiers during an ambush.
His actions were above and beyond the call of duty.
Again, the presentation marks the first time in nearly four decades that the nation's highest award for valor was given to a living service member. I cannot overstress how gratifying it is to see this great American Soldier receive his just due. In its 150 years of its existence, the Medal of Honor has been awarded sparingly, more recently so than originally, and only to the bravest military members whose courage has been well-documented. The recommendation process itself can take longer than 18 months, with the recommendation undergoing intensive, rigorous scrutiny.
The final decision authority resides with the president as he is the commander in chief of America's armed forces. Because of the Medal of Honor's strict standards, there have been many brave Americans who have exhibited extraordinary valor but their actions fell short of the demanding criteria, or there were no witnesses to recommend the award, or both.
Here are the criteria that must be met:
The service member must distinguish himself or herself conspicuously by gallantry and intrepidity at the risk of his or her life above and beyond the call of duty while engaged in action against an enemy of the United States; while engaged in military operations involving conflict with an opposing foreign force; or, while serving with friendly foreign forces engaged in an armed conflict against an opposing armed force in which the United States is not a belligerent party.
The deed performed must have been one of personal bravery or self-sacrifice so conspicuous as to clearly distinguish the individual above his or her comrades and must have involved risk of life.
Incontestable proof of the performance of the service will be exacted and each recommendation for the award of this decoration will be considered on the standard of extraordinary merit.
There have been only seven previous Medal of Honor awards made for service in Iraq and Afghanistan, and none of those heroes were alive to receive their medals. We are fortunate in the Midlands of South Carolina to have two living - and very active, I might add - Medal of Honor recipients residing among us.
Retired Col. Charles P. Murray, a World War II hero, and retired Master Sgt. John F. Baker, a hero during Vietnam, both live in our area and are tremendous supporters of Fort Jackson and veterans everywhere. If you had the chance to attend the recent Veterans Day parade in Columbia, you might have seen Murray leading the parade as its grand marshal.
In all, there have been a total of 3,450 recipients in the roughly 150 years of the medal's history. The history of each recipient is worth visiting, particularly for those of you who wear the uniform. When learning their stories, you will notice that the names and battlefields are different, but their acts of courage will reflect the same basic theme of risking everything for someone else - the ultimate extension of the Warrior Ethos.
Army Strong and Victory Starts Here!