Medal of Honor Recipient Sal Giunta at Thomson Reuters for Veteran’s Day
In October 2007, Staff Sergeant Sal Giunta and his team were navigating through harsh terrain in the Kunar Province of Afghanistan as part of the 2d Battalion (Airborne), 503d Infantry Regiment, when they were ambushed by an insurgent force. While under heavy enemy fire, Giunta engaged the enemy and exposed himself to enemy fire, administering medical aid to his squad leader. Enemy fire struck Giunta’s body armor and secondary weapon, but he continued on, prepping and throwing grenades, while using the explosions for cover in order to conceal his position. As his team reached wounded soldiers from their squad, Giunta realized that another soldier was still separated from the element. He then advanced forward on his own initiative and observed two insurgents carrying away an American soldier. He immediately took action, killing one insurgent and wounding the other. Upon reaching the wounded soldier, he began to provide medical aid, as his squad caught up and provided security. Specialist Giunta’s unwavering courage, selflessness, and decisive leadership while under extreme enemy fire were integral to his platoon’s ability to defeat an enemy ambush and recover a fellow American soldier from the enemy, according to the Congressional Medal of Honor Society.
As a result, in November 2010, Staff Sergeant Sal Giunta became the first living person since the Vietnam War to receive the Medal of Honor for his actions to repel a Taliban attack and protect his fellow soldiers.
The photos from that day show a stoic, 25 year-old Giunta flanked by his fellow service members, former Medal of Honor winners, friends and family as President Obama presents him with the U.S. military’s highest honor. But to hear Giunta describe that moment today, he speaks of the internal strife he felt at that moment.
“To be recognized on a world stage for something we all did, it felt so embarrassing. I struggle to tell the story because I did nothing, we did everything, and on a day like today – Veteran’s Day – it’s important to remember that,” he reflected in front of a full audience (and many more watching online) at the Thomson Reuters Eagan campus on Tuesday.
Giunta’s speech started with a charming anecdote of how he was a high school student and “sandwich artist” from Iowa who came to join the U.S. military after the attacks of September 11, 2001. His call to service was noble, but it was the promise of a free t-shirt and an extra $150 a week “to jump out of planes” as part of the 173rd Airborne Brigade that sealed the deal.
“‘You’re an 18-year-old, able-bodied male; everything you have in your life has been given to you, freely… but it hasn’t been given freely, it has cost someone else blood, sweat and tears to ensure that you have the lifestyle that you enjoy today,’” the recruiter told Giunta.
“Woah, that is awesome… you’re going to get a ton of people to join the Army… I just need the t-shirt, and I’ll be on my way,” he responded.
But once he joined the Army, he learned of the support and the brotherhood that would help him endure two tours in Afghanistan and drive him to the selfless act that would later earn him the Medal of Honor.
A full description of the events that lead to his citation can be read here: http://www.cmohs.org/recipient-detail/3471/giunta-salvatore-a.php
Giunta’s lasting message was one of admiration for the interplay between the people he served with, but also the society at large that enjoys a peaceful, “brighter tomorrow.” As he described, his military life emboldened his hope that his family would never know the fear of war.
And so with a proud audience before him, Giunta wore a smile in anticipation for his own future as a husband, father – and someday soon – a student looking toward the next chapter of his life.