Medal of Honor recipient Salvatore Giunta tells his story
Staff Sgt. Salvatore Giunta is the first living soldier from the wars in Iraq or Afghanistan to be chosen to receive the Medal of Honor. Here's his story of what happened that day in Afghanistan.
Staff Sgt. Salvatore Giunta recently became the first living soldier from the wars in Iraq or Afghanistan to be chosen to receive the Medal of Honor, America's highest award for valor. He spoke Wednesday to Pentagon reporters about the night of the attack, in which his “extraordinary bravery” in battle, according to the White House, brought him to the attention of the nation.
Still, he contends, “In this job, I am only mediocre. I’m average.
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"This was a situation that we were put into,” he says via a live video feed from Italy, where he is now stationed. “I was just one brush stroke in that picture, and everyone else was one brush stroke in that picture. And what I wasn’t the first brush stroke of that picture, and it wasn’t the last brush stroke in that picture, and it wasn’t the best, it was just another brush stroke that helped, you know, complete this picture.”
Here, in his own words, is his tale.
A day like any other, at first
The day began like any other day for a US soldier in Afghanistan, says Staff Sgt. Salvatore Giunta. His platoon was out on a multiday mission in the violent and rugged Korengal Valley of eastern Afghanistan. It’s an area the US military has since pulled out of, after deciding that the relatively low population density didn’t merit the heavy toll it was taking on the American soldiers who were serving at the small, vulnerable outposts there.
The mission for Giunta’s 1st Platoon was to overwatch 2nd Platoon, which was in a village nestled in the valley below them. “You know,” he said, “let them know we’re here for them.”
To do that, they planned to set up on the ridge line above the village. They moved out before daybreak, hiking for two hours and arriving at their outlook post just before dawn.
The day was quiet, for the most part. The troops were picking up chatter known as ICOM, or intelligence communication, coming from nearby insurgents in conversation with one another. It was chatter along the lines of, “The enemy’s setting up. They're going to do something,” recalled Giunta. “But I mean, as a soldier in Afghanistan, that – you expect that. You’re going to hear ICOM chatter that says all sorts of crazy, off-the-wall stuff. And be it true or not, I mean, that’s what we came there to do. We – we’re waiting for them.”
So Giunta’s platoon was at its overlook post all day while 2nd Platoon spent time in the village, getting to know the elders.
As they were preparing to leave, the sun was setting over the mountains. “Night’s falling, we have Apache attack helicopters above us, flying around, you know, covering us.” The platoon was breaking down its equipment, the soldiers “you know, giving hand-and-arm signals, letting everyone know what’s about to happen, that we’re going to move back to the Korengal outpost.”
The soldiers pushed out. But between 50 to 100 meters from where they had been all day, they encountered an ambush.
'It all kind of goes blurry'
There were between 10 and 20 insurgents, Giunta told reporters. But in the midst of battle, he added, “It all kind of goes blurry.” Much of what followed, he said, was simply soldierly instinct.