President Barack Obama recognized Army Staff Sgt. Salvatore Giunta as the first living soldier since the Vietnam War to receive the Medal of Honor, Tuesday, in a special ceremony at the White House.
On Oct. 25, 2007, Giunta was serving as a specialist with the Airborne 503rd Infantry Regiment in the Korengal Valley in Afghanistan. He braved enemy fire to save his fellow soldiers when the Taliban ambushed his platoon.
"He crested the hill alone with no cover but dust, being kept by the storm of bullets still flying around," Obama said. "There he saw a chilling site, the silhouettes of two insurgents carrying a wounded American soldier, who happened to be one of Sal's best friends. Sal never broke stride. He broke forward, he took aim, and he killed one of the insurgents and wounded the other."
Giunta killed the insurgent and wounded another as they tried to carry away a wounded Sgt. Josh Brennan.
"They dropped Josh's body and released him. When Sgt. Giunta got him, Josh had been shot multiple times and hit with a rocket propelled grenade as well," Mike Brennan, Josh Brennan's father said.
Brennan later died during surgery. Still, U.S. Defense Department documents noted that Giunta's actions helped his unit stave off the attackers before they could cause more casualties to his platoon. Although the 25-year-old was shot twice, his wounds were not severe.
Upon learning he was to be rewarded for his bravery, Giunta said he felt "lost."
"I felt kind of angry ... just because, you know, this is so big," he told CNN. "This is, it came at such a price. It came at the price of a good buddy of mine - not just Brennan, but (team medic Hugo) Mendoza. Mendoza died that night as well."
According to the White House, the medal is given to "a member of the Armed Forces who distinguishes themselves conspicuously by gallantry above and beyond the call of duty. The meritorious conduct must involve great personal bravery or self-sacrifice so conspicuous as to clearly distinguish the individual above his or her comrades and must have involved risk of life."
"It is a great thing," Giunta said of the award. "But it is a great thing that has come at a personal loss to myself and so many other families."