Salvatore Giunta

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Salvatore Giunta
Giunta in April 2010
Born (1985-01-21) January 21, 1985 (age 39)
Clinton, Iowa, U.S.
AllegianceUnited States
Service/branchUnited States Army
Years of service2003–2011
RankStaff Sergeant
Unit2nd Battalion, 503rd Infantry Regiment, 173rd Airborne Brigade
Battles/warsWar in Afghanistan
AwardsMedal of Honor
Bronze Star Medal
Purple Heart
Relations1 daughter (born October 6, 2011)

Salvatore Augustine Giunta (/ˌsælvəˈtɔːr ˈʊntə/; born January 21, 1985) is a former United States Army soldier and the first living person since the Vietnam War to receive the United States Armed Forces' highest decoration for valor, the Medal of Honor. Giunta was cited for saving the lives of members of his squad on October 25, 2007, during the War in Afghanistan. He left the United States Army in June 2011.[1]

Early life and education[edit]

Giunta was born in Clinton, Iowa, on January 21, 1985, to an Italian American family.[2] Giunta grew up in Cedar Rapids and Hiawatha. His parents, Steven, a medical equipment technician, and Rosemary, a preschool teacher, live in Hiawatha. He has two younger siblings, Mario and Katie.[3] Giunta attended John F. Kennedy High School in Cedar Rapids. At age 17, while working in a Subway, he decided to enlist and joined the United States Army in November 2003.[3][4] He was the first in his immediate family to serve in the armed forces since his grandparents emigrated from Italy.[5]

Military career[edit]

Giunta attended basic training and infantry school at Fort Benning, Georgia. He was deployed to Afghanistan from March 2005 until March 2006 and again from May 2007 until July 2008. He was promoted to staff sergeant in August 2009. Giunta was last stationed at Caserma Ederle, the 173rd Airborne Brigade Combat Team's base near Vicenza, Italy.[6] He served in the 2nd Battalion, 503rd Infantry Regiment, 173rd Airborne Brigade Combat Team,[7] and worked in a support role for members of his unit then deployed in Afghanistan.[8]

In 2007, Giunta was stationed at Firebase Vegas in the Korengal Valley—an area about 9.7 by 1.6 kilometers (6.03 mi × 0.99 mi) near the Afghanistan–Pakistan border—which the soldiers had nicknamed the Valley of Death.[9] In late October, his company launched a six-day mission known as Operation Rock Avalanche. On October 23, Taliban fighters killed Staff Sergeant Larry Rougle and wounded two other infantrymen when Rougle's position on "Honcho Hill" was overrun. On October 25, company commander Captain Dan Kearney sent 2nd and 3rd Platoon back to meet with the local village elders and to recover from them the U.S. equipment that the Taliban had captured when Rougle was killed.[10][11] 1st Platoon was tasked with providing protective cover and interdicting enemy forces from a nearby ridge.

Medal of Honor action[edit]

Shortly after nightfall on October 25, 2007, rifle team leader Giunta and the rest of the seven troops of 1st Platoon had just finished a day-long overwatch of 2nd and 3rd Platoon in the valley below. Although dark, there was sufficient moonlight that night vision equipment was not needed. They were returning to Combat Outpost Vimoto and Korengal Outpost. They walked about 10 to 15 feet (3.0–4.6 m) apart through the thin holly forest, along the Gatigal Spur of Honcho Hill at about 2,438 meters (7,999 ft) elevation.[12]

Within 50 to 100 meters (160–330 ft) of leaving their position, 10 to 15 insurgents ambushed the main body of the squad from cover and concealment only about 10 meters (33 ft) away,[12] so near that the Apaches overhead could not provide close air support.[13] The ambushing force was armed with AK-47 assault rifles, 10 rocket-propelled grenade (RPG) launchers, and 4 belt-fed PKM machine guns.[14] They fired an unusually high proportion of tracer rounds. Giunta described it later:

There were more bullets in the air than stars in the sky. A wall of bullets at every one at the same time with one crack and then a million other cracks afterwards. They're above you, in front of you, behind you, below you. They're hitting in the dirt early. They're going over your head. Just all over the place. They were close—as close as I've ever seen.[9]

Ambush on October 25, 2007
The ambush was initiated with intense RPG and PKM fire
Giunta's squad used grenades to suppress enemy fire

Sergeant Joshua Brennan, leader of Alpha Team and one of Giunta's best friends, was walking point.[15] He was followed by SPC Frank Eckrode, squad leader Erick Gallardo, and then Giunta, who was then a specialist. PFC Kaleb Casey and Garrett Clary followed Giunta. A 13-man Headquarters (HQ) unit led by Lt. Brad Winn, including a five-man gun team from weapons squad,[16] along with a nurse who volunteered for the mission, followed immediately behind them. When the Taliban opened fire, Brennan was struck by eight rounds and Eckrode was hit by four rounds.[15] Gallardo attempted to sprint forward, but RPGs exploding among the thin trees and 18 inches (46 cm)-high bushes around him along with machine gun and small arms fire stopped him.[17] Unable to advance, he fell back to join Giunta's Bravo Team. While backpedaling and firing at the same time, he fell and was in the same moment struck in the helmet by an AK-47 round. The round penetrated his helmet but only grazed his scalp.[11][5] An RPG round struck very near Giunta, who was returning fire and directing Bravo Team from a small defilade. Giunta was puzzled that the lip of the small depression he lay in was not protecting him from rounds cracking by his head, that they appeared to be coming from the north as well as the west.[13]

Giunta saw Gallardo take the bullet to his head and fall. Assuming Gallardo had been shot, Giunta rose and ran through the intense wall of fire to his side.[14] As he helped the uninjured sergeant find cover, the ceramic plate in the front of Giunta's protective vest was struck by a bullet. Another round struck the SMAW-D weapon slung over his back.[18] Giunta recognized that the extremely heavy tracer fire was coming not just from his west but from the north as well, a classic L-shaped ambush that threatened to flank the squad. He recalled from basic training that to survive an ambush like this he had only one choice: advance on the enemy.[5] He ordered Casey and Clary to pull back a few steps to prevent the Taliban from flanking them.[13] Casey was firing his M249 Squad Automatic Weapon cyclic and Clary was firing his M203 grenade launcher as well.

The platoon leader in the HQ unit, Lieutenant Brad Winn, radioed Captain Kearney to advise him that their unit had five wounded men. The squad's medic, Specialist Hugo Mendoza, was among them. He had been shot through the femoral artery at the beginning of the ambush and died. Kearney ordered Second Platoon to assist Winn's platoon, but Second Platoon was in the valley below, some distance away, and had to first cross a river to reach them.[10]

Giunta and Gallardo gathered Casey and Clary. They were pinned down by the concentrated small arms and cyclic machine gun fire from a number of Taliban positions at close range. Less than 15 seconds into the ambush,[17] Giunta and the others disrupted the attack by throwing volleys of fragmentation grenades towards the Taliban about 15 meters (49 ft) to their west and attacked north.[9] Firing PFC Casey's M249, Clary's M203, and their other weapons, they advanced until they reached Eckrode. Shot twice in one leg and with two other wounds, Eckrode was attempting to unjam his M249 SAW.[11] Gallardo, who later received a Silver Star for his actions, dressed Eckrode's wounds and called for medevac.

Giunta, seeing that Eckrode was tended to, advanced with PFC Clary through the intense enemy gunfire, looking for Brennan. When they could not locate him where they expected to find him, Giunta ran further forward through the effective small arms fire and over the exposed, open crest of the ridge. Giunta saw three individuals and then recognized that two of them were Afghans dragging Sgt. Brennan, one by the legs and one by his arms.[11] Giunta pursued them, firing his M4 carbine as he ran, killing one (later identified as Mohammad Tali, considered a high-value target) and wounding the other.[19] The second Afghan dropped Brennan and fled.[13] An AC-130 gunship shortly afterward spotted someone carrying Brennan's rucksack and killed him. Giunta said, "I ran through fire to see what was going on with [Brennan] and maybe we could hide behind the same rock and shoot together ... He was still conscious. He was breathing. He was asking for morphine. I said, 'You'll get out and tell your hero stories,' and he was like, 'I will, I will.'"[20]

After reaching Brennan, Giunta pulled him back towards the rest of the squad and cover, comforted him, and examined him for wounds in the dark. Brennan was grievously hurt.[17] The 2nd and 3rd Platoons arrived to reinforce 1st Platoon and render aid. Giunta continued to assist the medic and adjust security while they waited for evacuation.[9][13]

The ambush had lasted three minutes.[11] Later the next day, Brennan died while in surgery.[21] Gallardo told Giunta later on, "You don't understand ... but what you did was pretty crazy. We were outnumbered. You stopped the fight. You stopped them from taking a soldier."[22] Eckrode said of Giunta, "For all intents and purposes, with the amount of fire that was going on in the conflict at the time, he shouldn't be alive."[15]

Medal of Honor award[edit]

Giunta receiving the Medal of Honor from President Barack Obama on November 16, 2010
Giunta addresses the audience during the Medal of Honor Hall of Heroes Induction Ceremony at the Pentagon.

Giunta learned two days later from Kearney that the latter was going to recommend him for the Medal of Honor. He was uncomfortable about being singled out and labeled a hero. "If I'm a hero, every man that stands around me, every woman in the military, everyone who goes into the unknown is a hero," he says. "So if you think that's a hero—as long as you include everyone with me."[23] Giunta insists that his actions were those of any man in his unit. "In this job, I am only mediocre. I'm average."[23] "I did what I did because in the scheme of painting the picture of that ambush, that was just my brush stroke. That's not above and beyond. I didn't take the biggest brush stroke, and it wasn't the most important brush stroke. Wearing the Medal of Honor is like a slap in the face."[9]

On September 10, 2010, the White House announced that Giunta would be awarded the United States' highest military decoration, the first awarded to a living recipient since the Vietnam War.[24][25] He received the medal from President Barack Obama during a ceremony at the White House on November 16, 2010.[26] All of his surviving squad members also attended the ceremony.

On July 5, 2017, during a dedication ceremony for the Medal of Honor Walkway, located outside of the 173rd Airborne Brigade Headquarters building in Vicenza, Italy, Salvatore Giunta chose to give his Medal of Honor to the brigade. He stated "I want this to stay here in Vicenza, Italy with the 173rd to the men and women that earn this every single day through their selflessness and sacrifice."

Addressing the attention he has received due to the medal, he stated:

I'm not at peace with that at all," Giunta said. "And coming and talking about it and people wanting to shake my hand because of it, it hurts me, because it's not what I want. And to be with so many people doing so much stuff and then to be singled out—and put forward. I mean, everyone did something.[27]

Giunta is the fourth Medal of Honor recipient from the War in Afghanistan, after U.S. Navy Lieutenant Michael P. Murphy, U.S. Army Sergeant First Class Jared C. Monti, and U.S. Army Staff Sergeant Robert James Miller,[28][29] the others being posthumously awarded the medal. All four were decorated for actions in eastern Afghanistan's small but highly-lethal Kunar Province.

Personal life[edit]

Salvatore Giunta at a book signing at a post exchange in Vicenza, Italy in 2013

Giunta chose not to re-enlist and left the army in June 2011.[30] Giunta and his wife moved to Colorado where he studied at Colorado State University.[31] Giunta has also written an autobiography titled Living with Honor, published by Simon & Schuster.[32]

Giunta and Jennifer Lynn Mueller, a native of Dubuque, were married in October 2009 after dating for several years.[3][4] The couple are parents of a daughter born on October 6, 2011.[31][33]

On December 31, 2010, Giunta was invited by New York City mayor Michael Bloomberg to attend the New Year's Eve celebrations in Times Square. There, he pressed a button upon the start of a sixty-second countdown to initiate the ball drop.[34]

On February 6, 2011, Giunta was honored on the field and via international television broadcast at the beginning of the second half of Super Bowl XLV, which the Green Bay Packers eventually won over the Pittsburgh Steelers.

As of June 2014, Giunta lives in Fort Collins, Colorado.[35]

Awards and decorations[edit]

Giunta's military decorations include:[36][37][38]

Medals and ribbons[edit]

Bronze oak leaf cluster
A light blue ribbon with five white pointed stars
Right breast Left breast
Italian Military Parachutist Badge
Army Presidential Unit Citation w/ 2 OLC
Army Meritorious Unit Commendation w/ OLC
Combat Infantryman Badge
Medal of Honor Bronze Star Purple Heart
Meritorious Service Medal[1] Army Commendation Medal w/ two oak leaf cluster[38] Army Achievement Medal
Army Good Conduct Medal (2nd award) National Defense Service Medal Afghanistan Campaign Medal w/ 2 campaign stars[39]
Global War on Terrorism Expeditionary Medal Global War on Terrorism Service Medal Army NCO Professional Development Ribbon
Army Service Ribbon Army Overseas Service Ribbon NATO Medal for Service in ex-Yugoslavia
Basic Parachutist Insignia Expert marksmanship badge for rifle
United Kingdom Parachutist Badge
German Parachutist Badge in bronze

4 Overseas Service Bars
2 Service stripes

Medal of Honor citation[edit]

The President of the United States of America, authorized by an Act of Congress, 3 March 1863, has awarded, in the name of Congress, the Medal of Honor to


For conspicuous gallantry and intrepidity at the risk of his life above and beyond the call of duty: Specialist Salvatore A. Giunta distinguished himself conspicuously by gallantry and intrepidity at the risk of his life above and beyond the call of duty in action with an armed enemy in the Korengal Valley, Afghanistan, on October 25, 2007. While conducting a patrol as team leader with Company B, 2d Battalion (Airborne), 503d Infantry Regiment, Specialist Giunta and his team were navigating through harsh terrain when they were ambushed by a well-armed and well-coordinated insurgent force. While under heavy enemy fire, Specialist Giunta immediately sprinted towards cover and engaged the enemy. Seeing that his squad leader had fallen and believing that he had been injured, Specialist Giunta exposed himself to withering enemy fire and raced towards his squad leader, helped him to cover, and administered medical aid. While administering first aid, enemy fire struck Specialist Giunta's body armor and his secondary weapon. Without regard to the ongoing fire, Specialist Giunta engaged the enemy before prepping and throwing grenades, using the explosions for cover in order to conceal his position. Attempting to reach additional wounded fellow soldiers who were separated from the squad, Specialist Giunta and his team encountered a barrage of enemy fire that forced them to the ground. The team continued forward and upon reaching the wounded soldiers, Specialist Giunta realized that another soldier was still separated from the element. Specialist Giunta then advanced forward on his own initiative. As he crested the top of a hill, he observed two insurgents carrying away an American soldier. He immediately engaged the enemy, killing one and wounding the other. Upon reaching the wounded soldier, he began to provide medical aid, as his squad caught up and provided security. Specialist Giunta's unwavering courage, selflessness, and decisive leadership while under extreme enemy fire were integral to his platoon's ability to defeat an enemy ambush and recover a fellow American soldier from the enemy. Specialist Salvatore A. Giunta's extraordinary heroism and selflessness above and beyond the call of duty are in keeping with the highest traditions of military service and reflect great credit upon himself, Company B, 2d Battalion (Airborne), 503d Infantry Regiment, and the United States Army.

/s/ Barack Obama


His publications[edit]

  • Giunta, Sal; Layden, Joe (2012). Living with Honor: A Memoir. Threshold Editions. ISBN 978-1451691467.

See also[edit]


  1. ^ a b Harris, Kent (March 7, 2011). "Giunta says farewell to Italy base on way out of Army". Stars and Stripes. Retrieved March 7, 2011.
  2. ^ "Medaglia al parà, Obama chiama la Ederle" (in Italian). Il Giornale di Vicenza. September 10, 2010. Retrieved September 19, 2010.
  3. ^ a b c Jacobs, Jennifer (September 12, 2010). "Iowan downplays Medal of Honor designation". The Des Moines Register. Archived from the original on September 13, 2010.
  4. ^ a b "President Obama to Award Medal of Honor". (Press release). October 18, 2010. Retrieved October 10, 2010 – via National Archives.
  5. ^ a b c At that point it was a wall of lead… the first thing I think was Sgt. Giunta was probably going to get killed September 11, 2016 Soldier of Fortune
  6. ^ "Soldier Who Risked Life to Save Another to be Awarded Medal of Honor". Associated Press. September 10, 2010. Retrieved September 11, 2010.
  7. ^ Hedgpeth, Dana (September 15, 2010). "Receiving Medal of Honor is bittersweet, soldier says". The Washington Post. Retrieved September 16, 2010.
  8. ^ "First Medal of Honor for a living Afghan war vet". Yahoo! News. Associated Press. September 10, 2010. Retrieved September 10, 2010.
  9. ^ a b c d e Hetherington, Tim (November 11, 2010). "Medal of Honor Winner Salvatore Giunta on Bravery, Brotherhood, and the Korengal". Vanity Fair. Retrieved November 11, 2010.
  10. ^ a b Rubin, Elizabeth (November 13, 2010). "In One Moment in Afghanistan, Heroism and Heartbreak". The New York Times. Retrieved November 14, 2010.
  11. ^ a b c d e Staff Sgt. Giunta's Medal of Honor. 60 Minutes. November 14, 2010.
  12. ^ a b "SSG Giunta to receive Medal of Honor today". Retrieved November 26, 2010.
  13. ^ a b c d e "Official Narrative for Staff Sergeant Salvatore A. Giunta – Medal of Honor Recipient for the United States Army". United States Army. Retrieved November 16, 2010.
  14. ^ a b "Staff Sergeant Salvatore A. Giunta – Medal of Honor Recipient for the United States Army". U.S. Army. Retrieved November 16, 2010.
  15. ^ a b c "The battle that created America's newest hero". CNN. November 11, 2010. Retrieved January 4, 2010.
  16. ^ "Battlescape – The Unit". U.S. Army. Retrieved November 17, 2010.
  17. ^ a b c "'War' excerpt about Staff Sgt. Salvatore Giunta's actions". Stars and Stripes. September 10, 2010. Retrieved November 16, 2010.
  18. ^ " News Transcript: DOD News Briefing with Staff Sgt. Giunta and Jenny Giunta via Teleconference from Italy". Department of Defense. September 15, 2010. Retrieved November 17, 2010.
    Goodman, Jennifer (November 16, 2010). "Obama to Present Medal of Honor to Soldier for Gallantry in Afghanistan". Fox News. Retrieved November 16, 2010.
    Shaughnessy, Larry (September 10, 2010). "At last, hero of ongoing war is alive to receive Medal of Honor". CNN. Retrieved September 10, 2010.
  19. ^ Rubin, Elizabeth (April 11, 2010). "Mother courage: being pregnant on the frontline". The Observer. London. Retrieved September 11, 2010.
    Rubin, Elizabeth (February 24, 2008). "Battle Company Is Out There". The New York Times Magazine. Retrieved September 11, 2010.
  20. ^ Sebastian Junger, War, Hachette Book Group USA, May 2010.
  21. ^ Tilghman, Andrew (September 17, 2010). "Medal of Honor bittersweet, Giunta says". Army Times. Retrieved September 17, 2010.
  22. ^ Cohen, Sharon (January 2, 2011). "For Medal of Honor recipient, retelling his story isn't easy". Washington Post. Retrieved January 4, 2011.
  23. ^ a b "Medal of Honor recipient Salvatore Giunta tells his story". Christian Science Monitor. November 10, 2010. Retrieved January 4, 2011.
  24. ^ Beaumont, Peter (July 4, 2010). "US paratrooper set to win highest military honour". The Guardian. London. Retrieved July 11, 2010.
  25. ^ Johnston, Nicholas (September 10, 2010). "Obama to Award Medal of Honor to Living Soldier for First Time". Bloomberg. Bloomberg L.P. Retrieved September 10, 2010.
  26. ^ "President Obama Presents the Medal of Honor to Staff Sergeant Salvatore Giunta: "We're All in Your Debt"". November 16, 2010. Retrieved November 16, 2010 – via National Archives.
  27. ^ Dykes, Brett Michael (November 16, 2010). "Meet Sal Giunta, the first living Medal of Honor winner since Vietnam". Yahoo News. Retrieved November 16, 2010.
  28. ^ Shaughnessy, Larry (September 10, 2010). "Award will be exception to recent posthumous Medals of Honor". CNN. Retrieved September 13, 2010.
  29. ^ "Medal of Honor Recipients – Afghanistan". Medal of Honor Citations. United States Army Center of Military History. June 23, 2010. Retrieved September 13, 2010.
  30. ^ "Medal of Honor winner opts not to re-enlist". NBC News. Associated Press. February 8, 2011. Retrieved June 28, 2018.
  31. ^ a b Wolf, Jeffrey; Bazi Kanani (July 26, 2011). "Medal of Honor recipient moves to Colorado: 'I will carry this the rest of my life'". Denver, Colorado: KUSA. Archived from the original on July 27, 2011.
  32. ^ Joe Layden (January 28, 2013). "Living with Honor: A Memoir". Reviews. Publishers Weekly. Retrieved April 20, 2013.
  33. ^ Shaughnessy, Larry (October 17, 2011). "Medal of Honor recipient gets new title: Dad". CNN. Retrieved April 21, 2018.
    "Medal of Honor winner presents scholarship to Kennedy senior". The Gazette. Cedar Rapids, Iowa. May 1, 2012. Retrieved April 21, 2018.
  34. ^ Ossad, Jordana (January 1, 2012). "NYC welcomes 2011 with traditional ball-drop, revelers". CNN. Retrieved November 10, 2012.
  35. ^ Udell, Erin (June 9, 2014). "Wounded veteran and fiancee put down roots in Windsor". Coloradoan. Gannett. Retrieved June 12, 2015.
  36. ^ Crumb, Michael J. (September 10, 2010). "Living Soldier to receive Medal of Honor for action in Afghanistan". United States Army. Retrieved September 10, 2010.
  37. ^ "Profile for Staff Sergeant Salvatore A. Giunta". U.S. Army. Retrieved December 31, 2010.
  38. ^ a b Luste, Peter Harry (September 3, 2011). DD214 . United States Army. p. 1 – via Wikisource.
  39. ^ "The Institute of Heraldry, Ribbons-Order Of Precedence". U.S. Army.
  40. ^ "Official Citation for Staff Sergeant Salvatore A. Giunta – Medal of Honor Recipient". US Army. Retrieved November 20, 2013.

External links[edit]