Medal of Honor for living soldier: first time since Vietnam

Medal of Honor bestowals from Iraq and Afghanistan – seven of them – have all occurred posthumously. Now Iowa Staff Sgt. Salvatore Giunta will receive a Medal of Honor for bravery during battle in Afghanistan.

Richard Bumgardner/Defense Department/AP
Medal of Honor recipient Staff Sgt. Salvatore Giunta

The first living soldier to receive a Medal of Honor for the wars in Iraq or Afghanistan got a phone call from the president Thursday thanking him for his service and his “extraordinary bravery” in battle, according to the White House.

Staff Sgt. Salvatore Giunta from Hiawatha, Iowa, was assigned to Company B, 2nd Battalion (Airborne), 503rd Infantry Regiment as a rifle team leader on October 25, 2007 when he rescued a fellow soldier who had been wounded and taken prisoner by insurgents during an ambush on US troops.

It was in the deeply violent Korengal Valley in eastern Afghanistan that his squad was split into two groups and Giunta first “exposed himself to enemy fire to pull a comrade back to cover,” according to a White House release.

Later, in the midst of fighting and while he was trying to link up with the rest of his unit, Giunta saw two insurgents carrying off a fellow soldier who had been grievously injured in the fighting.

Giunta threw a hand grenade and rushed toward the insurgents, killing one and injuring the other before rescuing the US soldier and tending to his wounds. The soldier later died of his injuries.

Born in 1985, Giunta enlisted in the Army in November, 2003. He had also been deployed to Afghanistan one year previously, from March, 2005 to March 2006, before heading back to the country for 15 months from May 2007 to July 2008.

He will become the eighth service member to receive the Medal of Honor for US operations in Iraq and Afghanistan, “for acts of gallantry at the risk of his life that went above and beyond the call of duty.” All of the previous medals for both wars have been awarded posthumously.

The nation’s highest award for valor, the Medal of Honor – also known as the Congressional Medal of Honor – has been awarded posthumously to six troops fighting in the wars in Afghanistan in Iraq so far, with another to be conferred Oct. 6. Vietnam War troops earned the honor 246 times, and 464 were awarded for service in World War II.

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