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First Living US Medal of Honor Recipient in a Generation Speaks About Award

  • Michael Bowman

The first living recipient of the U.S. Medal of Honor since the Vietnam War will be decorated for having performed a perilous and heroic act - saving a wounded fellow-soldier during an intense firefight in Afghanistan. But Army Staff Sergeant Salvatore Giunta says his courage on the battlefield is no different from the actions displayed by U.S. troops on a daily basis. Sergeant Giunta fielded reporters' questions via satellite from the U.S. Army Garrison in Vicenza, Italy.

Several Medals of Honor have been awarded posthumously to service members for their contributions to the U.S. war effort in Iraq and Afghanistan. Sergeant Giunta will receive his medal - the nation's highest military award - in person and very much alive.

In October 2007, Giunta's squad was ambushed by Afghan insurgents near the border with Pakistan. Several of his comrades were wounded, including his best friend, Josh Brennan.

Giunta recalled the events in an interview with ABC News.

"I think about it multiple times a day," said Sergeant Giunta. "I think about it every day. To tell the story about that day hurts me."

Braving intense enemy fire, Giunta rushed after two insurgents who were dragging Brennan away. A rifle team leader, he killed one insurgent and caused the other to flee. He pulled Brennan to a safer area and comforted his friend while awaiting medical attention.

Josh Brennan later succumbed to his wounds. But Giunta's heroism saved Brennan from dying in enemy hands.

"I will always think of him [Brennan] the way he was, as someone who gave everything for his country," said Giunta.

Last week, Giunta received a telephone call from President Barack Obama, who thanked him for his service.

Addressing the news media on Wednesday, Giunta described the Medal of Honor and the recognition he is receiving as bittersweet.

"It is emotional and it is great," he said. "All of this is great. But it does bring back a lot of memories of all the people that I would love to share this moment with. And I am not going to have that opportunity because they are no longer with us."

Giunta described himself as an "average" soldier.

"By no means did I do anything that anyone else would not have done in that situation," said Sergeant Giunta.

But another survivor of the firefight, Army Sergeant Brett Perry, told ABC News that Giunta's heroism is real.

"He will say he was just doing his job," said Sergeant Perry. "But the reality is there are very few people in the world who would do what he did."

The Medal of Honor is awarded for acts of gallantry at the risk of one's life that go above and beyond the call of duty.