U.S. Army Staff Sgt. Salvatore Giunta has become the first living soldier since the Vietnam War, to receive the country's highest military decoration.
Last week, President Barack Obama telephoned Giunta at his current post in Italy to let him know he was being awarded the Medal of Honor. Wednesday he called the recognition bitter-sweet.
"All of this is great," Giunta said during a teleconference. "But it does bring back a lot of memories of people that I would love to share this moment with. And I am just not going to have this opportunity because they are no longer with us."
In October 2007, the Iowa native distinguished himself in Afghanistan against the enemy when his unit tried to retrieve several wounded comrades. Staff Sgt. Giunta's actions during the resulting firefight were filmed by a television documentary crew.
Rose Giunta, his mother, remembers a call days later in which she knew something had happened.
"I said, 'Sal what happened?'" Rose asked. "And he says, 'Mom, we lost Josh today.' Josh was not only one of his men, he was also one of his friends. And I said, 'Can you tell me what happened?' And he says, 'I can't Mom. I'm not ready to.' He says, 'Just talk to me.'"
Giunta told the Army that his devotion to fellow soldiers caused him to risk his life to rescue two of them from enemy fire. He is proud of the honor, but he truly believes he did nothing any other soldier wouldn't have done in similar circumstances.
"I didn't run on to do anything heroic," Giunta said. "I ran on to go fight next to my brother -- to go fight next to my friend who I already served one tour in Afghanistan with, who we lived in the same barracks building for the last four years, who we're in the same squad."
"He lived life kind of fast and he really found his niche when he got into the Army," said Steve Giunta, Giunta's father. "He started serving this country. He found an outlet for all of his energy and turning it into something very, very positive."