For the first time since the Vietnam War, America's highest military honor has been awarded to a living service member. President Barack Obama Tuesday awarded the Medal of Honor to a soldier who put himself in the line of fire in Afghanistan to save two fellow soldiers.
Standing in the East Room of the White House, President Obama said this Medal of Honor ceremony was truly a joyous occasion.
"It is my privilege to present our nation's highest military decoration, the Medal of Honor, to a soldier as humble as he is heroic, Staff Sergeant Salvatore A. Giunta," the president said." Now, I am going to go off-script here for a moment, and say, I really like this guy."
In October, 2007, Giunta, then 22-years-old, was leading an Army rifle team in Afghanistan's Korengal Valley. When an insurgent ambush divided his squad into two groups, the sergeant sprang into action under enemy fire.
"The two lead men were hit by enemy fire and knocked down instantly. When the third was struck in the helmet and fell to the ground, Sal charged headlong into the wall of bullets to pull him to safety behind what little cover there was," President Obama said.
As he did, Giunta was hit twice by enemy fire. But he continued charging and firing. When he saw his close friend being dragged away by two insurgents, Giunta shot both, then tended to his friend's wounds until medics arrived, but were not able to save the man.
"It had been as intense and violent a firefight as any soldier will experience. By the time it was finished, every member of First Platoon had shrapnel or a bullet hole in their gear. Five were wounded and two gave their lives," he said.
Mr. Obama said the medal he presented is a testament to Giunta's uncommon valor, to the parents and the community in the central state of Iowa where he was raised, to the military that trained him and to the men and women who served by his side.
Seven other service members from the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan have received the Medal of Honor posthumously.