Medal of Honor recipient Salvatore Augustine Giunta is the first living person since the Vietnam War to receive the U.S. military’s highest decoration for valor. But in a recent ceremony marking the 173rd Airborne Brigade’s new memorial to all the brigade’s soldiers who earned the military’s highest award, Giunta handed his over to the brigade commander.
“It can’t be with me because it’s ours,” said Giunta.
The young man from Iowa, who received the medal for his actions during an ambush in Afghanistan, has always contended that he is not a hero.
“It makes me feel awkward. I struggled with it for a long time,” Giunta said.
Giunta was with B Company, 2nd Battalion, 503rd Infantry Regiment in the Korengal Valley when his unit was ambushed. The young specialist repeatedly exposed himself to fire to pull fellow soldiers to safety and threw grenades to advance into a wall of bullets. Two U.S. soldiers, Sgt. Joshua Brennan and Spc. Hugo Mendoza, were killed in the attack.
“I want this to stay in Vicenza, Italy, with the 173rd, with the men and women who earn this every single day through their selflessness and sacrifice,” he said.
The memorial walkway stretches from the brigade headquarters to the gym and is lined with the memorials to Giunta and his fellow MoH recipients. All are remembered with a stone pedestal bearing plaques that show their faces and recite their heroic deeds.
Two of these heroes fought in World War II, 13 of them fought in Vietnam, and three, including Giunta, Sgt. Kyle White and Staff Sgt. Ryan Pitts fought in Afghanistan.
Giunta acknowledged his struggle to come to terms with the honor. “I’m not here because I’m a great soldier. I’m here because I served with great soldiers,” he said.
Sal Giunta shares his journey from his youth, to the military, events in Afghanistan, to falling in love in “Living with Honor: A Memoir.”