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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.

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“There wasn’t a whole lot of thinking that I needed to do. This is my job,” he said. “It’s something that we prepare for, because you have to train how you fight.”

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Giunta’s unit was staving off the L-shaped ambush in one direction, but Giunta instinctively went forward. Early in the ambush, Giunta had been shot in what soldiers call the SAPI, or small arms protective insert, plate – in other words, his bullet-proof vest. But that shot came from a different direction.

“It wasn’t from the direction that everyone else was shooting or I was shooting,” he said. “So, you know, there’s nothing to do with [the information] at that time, but that’s something to always keep in the back of your mind. And I definitely felt that I got hit from that direction.”

Looking for Sergeant Brennan

Later, Giunta moved forward in the direction from which he had been shot, expecting to link up with a fellow soldier, Sgt. Josh Brennan. What he didn’t realize was that Brennan had been injured and was taken prisoner and being carried off by insurgents.

“I didn’t run to do anything heroic or to save – to save Brennan,” Giunta said. “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 be shooting alone.”

He saved Brennan from being carried off by two insurgents, after killing one and injuring the second. Brennan died of his injuries, but the platoon was able to carry him out, back to his family. The platoon suffered deaths and casualties that day.

When Giunta learned he would be first living soldier in either the war in Iraq or Afghanistan to become the recipient of the nation’s highest award for valor, the Medal of Honor, Brennan’s father called to congratulate him. “I keep in touch with Josh Brennan’s father. He’s a real stand-up guy,” Giunta said. “And he’s expressed his gratitude to me which, you know, that’s kind of a hard one to stomach, because that’s still a loss. I’m glad that we could bring Josh back, but I wish it was under different circumstances.”

After repelling the ambush, as the soldiers made their way back to their lonely Korengal outpost, “there wasn’t a whole lot of even talking afterwards,” Giunta said. “I mean, just because all this happens, after the medevac bird comes in and starts picking people up, it’s not over. You’re not out of Afghanistan. You’re not off the side of the mountain. You’re just minus some buddies. And there’s no time to talk. You still have to complete the mission. And we’re still an hour-and-a-half walk away from where we needed to be, and now we have extra equipment and less men.”

Who's a hero?

His parents, Giunta says, are proud of him. “My parents were proud, and they’ve expressed that throughout my whole life. Even, I don’t know, tying my shoes made them proud, riding my bike without my training wheels made them proud. They’re very – they’re very proud parents. And this was – this was one more thing.”

Giunta's wife is proud of him, too. That doesn’t mean, however, that she looks forward to the day he might return to war, though the Pentagon often keeps Medal of Honor recipients from deploying again. “Having your husband, your boyfriend, your son, your loved one get deployed and knowing that they’re going to be somewhere that’s dangerous, and you know that they’re without water, without electricity, it’s an awful feeling,” she said. “And you don’t want anything to happen to him, so why would you want him to go back again?”

Giunta's actions during the harrowing events of Oct. 25, 2007, have made him a national hero. But as he prepares to receive America’s highest form of gratitude for a soldier, Giunta says he doesn’t necessarily feel like one. “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,” he says. “So if you think that’s a hero – as long as you include everyone with me.”