Medal of Honor Designee Praises Fellow Servicemembers

WASHINGTON, Sept. 15, 2010 — A sol­dier des­ig­nat­ed to receive the Medal of Hon­or down­played the notion that he is a hero today, insist­ing that his fel­low ser­vice­mem­bers also deserve to be described that way.

“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,” Army Staff Sgt. Sal­va­tore Giun­ta said. “So if you think that that’s a hero, … you include every­one with me.” 

He and his wife, Jen­ny, both Iowa natives, spoke from Vicen­za, Italy, to Pen­ta­gon reporters dur­ing a video news conference. 

Giun­ta, 25, learned dur­ing a Sept. 9 phone call from Pres­i­dent Barack Oba­ma that he will become the first liv­ing ser­vice­mem­ber to receive the Medal of Hon­or for actions dur­ing the Iraq and Afghanistan wars. 

Then a 22-year-old spe­cial­ist serv­ing as a rifle team leader with the 173rd Air­borne Brigade Com­bat Team’s Com­pa­ny B, 2nd Bat­tal­ion, 503rd Infantry Reg­i­ment, Giun­ta earned the nation’s high­est mil­i­tary hon­or for his hero­ism the night of Oct. 25, 2007, when his squad encoun­tered an insur­gent ambush in Afghanistan’s Koren­gal Valley. 

Giun­ta, who has been assigned to the same com­pa­ny for his entire mil­i­tary career, said his pla­toon was in an over­watch posi­tion that day, which had start­ed “like any oth­er day in Afghanistan.” The sol­diers had struck their equip­ment and were mov­ing out to return to their out­post as night began to fall. 

“[We] moved down the trail that we were by, that we sat at all day, prob­a­bly 50 meters, maybe 100 meters, and that’s when we were engaged in the L‑shaped ambush,” he said. 

Accord­ing to reports, when the insur­gent ambush split Giunta’s squad into two groups, he exposed him­self to ene­my fire to pull a squad mate back to cov­er. Lat­er, while fir­ing on the ene­my and attempt­ing to link up with the rest of his squad, Giun­ta said he saw two insur­gents car­ry­ing away a fel­low sol­dier, Sgt. Joshua C. Brennan. 

Giun­ta recov­ered his fel­low sol­dier, shoot­ing and killing one ene­my fight­er and wound­ing, then dri­ving off, anoth­er. He then pro­vid­ed med­ical aid to his wound­ed com­rade while the rest of his squad caught up and pro­vid­ed secu­ri­ty. Bren­nan, 22, from McFar­land, Wis., died the next day dur­ing surgery. A medic, Spc. Hugh Men­doza, 29, of Glen­dale, Ariz., also died. 

Giun­ta said his intent dur­ing the ambush was­n’t to be a hero. 

“I was out of grenades … and I had the for­ward momen­tum going,” he said. “I did­n’t run up to do any­thing hero­ic or to save Bren­nan. Bren­nan, in my mind, was­n’t in trou­ble. I was just going to go up and I’m going to find Bren­nan, and we’re going to shoot togeth­er, because it’s bet­ter to shoot with a bud­dy than to be shoot­ing alone.” 

Giun­ta said he did­n’t do more that night than any oth­er sol­dier would have done in his place. 

“This is what I’ve cho­sen to do with my life, … and every­one else I’m with is in the same boat,” he said. “All pro­fes­sion­als, all con­duct­ing them­selves as pro­fes­sion­als, so there was­n’t a whole lot of think­ing that any of us need­ed to do. … Every­one just kind of played their part, fol­lowed their lead­ers, and con­duct­ed them­selves how they were trained.” 

For most of the three years since Koren­gal Val­ley, Giun­ta has been reluc­tant to dis­cuss events he clear­ly remem­bers with pain. 

Today, fac­ing cam­eras and speak­ing with reporters, he called the hon­or bitter-sweet. 

“It’s such a huge, huge hon­or, and right now the 173rd is deployed. And they are doing the same thing they did, every­thing that’s asked of them in Afghanistan, all over again. 

That’s where a lot of my friends are right now. For me to ful­ly 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. 

“Some of them are out of the Army now, and some of them are in Afghanistan now … there are a lot of [oth­er] peo­ple I’d just love to share this moment with, and I’m just not going to have the oppor­tu­ni­ty, because they’re no longer with us. They gave every­thing for their coun­try,” he said. 

Giunta’s par­ents, Steve and Rose Giun­ta, spoke to reporters about their son dur­ing a Sept. 11 news con­fer­ence from Cedar Rapids, Iowa. Rose recount­ed the day she spoke with her son on the phone after the ambush occurred. 

“I said, ‘Can you tell me what has hap­pened?’ And he said ‘I can’t, Mom, I’m not ready to.’ I was cry­ing, look­ing out the win­dow, [try­ing to] talk about some­thing beyond the ques­tions that are going through my head,” she said. “We stayed on the phone for prob­a­bly 20 min­utes, and then he had to go. But it was very dif­fi­cult, and I did­n’t learn any­thing that day — just that two men had died, and every­one had got­ten hit.” 

Jen­ny, 26, works at the post youth cen­ter, teach­es yoga and takes online class­es to pre­pare for med­ical stud­ies. She said she did­n’t know about the Koren­gal Val­ley inci­dent until the fol­low­ing day, but remem­bers the call from the pres­i­dent a week ago. 

“It was intense. It was excit­ing,” she said. “When the call came through I was real­ly, real­ly proud. I always say I’m proud to be with him, I’m proud to be his wife, and I’m proud of what he went through.” 

Giun­ta is serv­ing as part of the unit’s rear detach­ment while the brigade is again deployed to Afghanistan. His for­mer squad leader, Staff Sgt. Erick Gal­lar­do, who was with him the night of the ambush, called him from Afghanistan after the Medal of Hon­or award was announced, Guin­ta said. 

“He just told me that he’s there for me, and he’s proud of me, and he’s hap­py for me, and this means a lot to the guys,” Giun­ta said. “And hon­est­ly, hear­ing him say that to me, some­one I look up to telling me this, it means a lot to me — espe­cial­ly that he can say that from the guys, too, that I think are the heroes right now. 

“They’re out there fight­ing the ene­mies of the Unit­ed States while I’m just sit­ting here,” he added. 

Six pre­vi­ous medals of hon­or have been award­ed dur­ing the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. They were award­ed posthu­mous­ly to one Marine Corps, two Navy and three Army servicemembers.

The pres­i­dent is sched­uled to present the sev­enth posthu­mous award to the fam­i­ly of Army Staff Sgt. Robert Miller in an Oct. 6 cer­e­mo­ny Oct. 6. 

U.S. Depart­ment of Defense
Office of the Assis­tant Sec­re­tary of Defense (Pub­lic Affairs) 

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