WASHINGTON (Army News Service, May 27, 2011) -- The Sons of Italy Foundation paid tribute to Medal of Honor recipient Staff Sgt. Salvatore Giunta, May 25, 2011, with a $10,000 educational scholarship.

The foundation asked Gen. Raymond T. Odierno to present the Soldier with the scholarship during its 23rd Annual National Education and Leadership Awards Gala.

Before the commander of U.S. Joint Forces Command made the presentation he told the audience of about 800 that, "Sal's character, selflessness, dedication to his band of brothers, his mental and physical toughness and his care for the physical and mental well-being of his teammates as well as his courage under fire are extraordinary."

Following the presentation and a standing ovation to both men, Giunta addressed the crowd. He thanked both the general and the audience.

"I appreciate all of you for coming and appreciate you all for recognizing me," he said. "It's pretty impressive when you're introduced by men who have sacrificed and who are willing to give so much. I can stand in front of all of you and thank you all I can, but this is who it belongs to, the men and women in uniform."

Giunta became the 27th Italian-American and the first living serviceman since Vietnam to receive the country's highest military award for valor. President Barack Obama presented the medal to him Nov. 16, 2010, for his actions in Afghanistan.

Giunta will leave the Army in June and will attend Colorado State University. He and wife Jennifer are expecting their first child. Giunta's grandparents emigrated from Sicily, Italy, to Iowa in 1904.

Actor Joe Mantegna served as master of ceremonies at the event. The actor remarked after Giunta left the stage: "I just want to say something to the sergeant. What you said sergeant, you are indeed one of a million, but you are also one in a million.

Earlier in the evening the foundation presented Sen. Jack Reed of Rhode Island, a West Point graduate and former Ranger, with its Lifetime Achievement Award for public service. Reed marks just the third non-Italian-American to receive the award. Former president Bill Clinton received the award in 2010; Vice President Joseph Biden received it in 2009.

After accepting the award, Reed said he felt humbled to be in the company of Soldiers like Odierno and Giunta.

"In America, with hard work and education, you can seize great opportunities, make great contributions and give a new generation of Americans a chance to believe," he said. "We all know that America is the work of many hands from many lands, but from my life's experience, no hands have given more to America and asked for less than the hands of the Italian-American."

Co-founder and executive director of the Wounded Warrior Project, Steven Nardizzi, received the SIF Special Award for Courage and Patriotism from retired Army Capt. Anthony Odierno, who serves on the project's board of directors.

The Wounded Warrior Project was founded in 2003 as a nonprofit organization whose mission is to "honor and empower wounded warriors" by raising awareness and support for severely injured veterans and provide programs and services for them.

"I never cease to be amazed by the willingness of wounded warriors who come through the other side into recovery to continue to want to give back and serve and help the next wounded warrior through in their recovery," said Nardizzi.

Popular Italian singer Giada Valenti and singer/songwriter Theresa Sareo performed at the black tie event.