War Hero: 'Medal of Honor Too Big for One Man'

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The nation's top military decoration has been awarded to a serviceman who placed himself in the line of fire in Afghanistan to save his fellow soldiers.

In a special ceremony at the White House on Monday, President Obama bestowed the Medal of Honor on U.S. Army Staff Sgt. Salvatore Giunta.  Giunta became the first living soldier since the Vietnam War to receive the medal.

But the humble hero from a small town in Iowa said the Medal of Honor is too big for one man.

Humble Beginnings

Giunta never would have pictured himself being awarded the Medal of Honor.  He was a "sandwich artist" at Subway before he joined the Army, when he was just 18 years old.
 
"After he went into the military, and he was focused up, and he grew up and changed from a boy to a man at that time - well, it was just night and day," recalled his father, Steve Giunta.

Giunta grew up in the tiny town of Hiawatha, Iowa.

"He had a great relationship with the teachers," his grandmother Rose Giunta said. "Anytime I would go in for a conference or something, they'd say, 'He is so much fun. It's so good to have him in my room.' 'How's he doing?' - Well, I'm like, 'Ok, get over the social part!'"

Just five years after high school, the young man would find himself on a battlefield in Afghanistan fighting Taliban militants.

The Greatest Sacrifice

On Oct. 25, 2007, Giunta was serving as a specialist with the Airborne's 503rd Infantry Regiment in the Korengal Valley.  He charged into enemy fire to save his fellow comrades 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 read from the declaration. "There he saw a chilling sight.  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..."

Giunta killed one insurgent and wounded another as they were trying to carry away Sgt. Josh Brennan, who was severely wounded.

"They dropped Josh's body and released him.  When Sgt. Giunta got to him, Josh had been shot multiple times and hit with a rocket propelled grenade as well," Mike Brennan, Josh Brennan's father said.

Sgt. Giunta later found out his friend had died of his wounds.  However, his heroism under fire had saved half of his platoon.

"What type of brotherhood is that, that they know they would die for one another or put their life in harm's way for one another.  It's amazing," Steve Giunta marveled.

"Sal had a desire to do things right," his mother said. "And he would speak about that desire right there. 'Mom, I want to do things right. I want to… I want to leave a mark. I want to be somebody that did it right.'"

As for receiving the Medal of Honor, Staff Sgt. Giunta says the medal isn't his alone, but that it belongs to all of his men.

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Mark Martin

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Mark Martin is a reporter and anchor at CBN News, covering various issues from military matters to alternative fuels. Mark has reported internationally in the Middle East and traveled to Bahrain to cover stories on the U.S.S. Dwight D. Eisenhower. Follow Mark on Twitter @MarkMartinCBN and "like" him at Facebook.com/MarkMartinCBN.