On the eve of September 11th, Stars and Stripes reports that President Obama met last night with Staff Sergeant Salvatore Giunta to inform him that he will be the first living U.S. service member from either Iraq or Afghanistan to receive the Medal of Honor.
The Washington Post, covering the story explains: "Six posthumous Medals of Honor have been awarded for heroism in the Iraq and Afghan wars. The honorees exposed themselves to enemy fire to call for reinforcements or pull wounded colleagues to safety. Three of the six jumped on grenades, sacrificing their lives to save their fellow troops." The New York Times notes that "In contrast, 464 Medals of Honor were awarded during World War II, 133 during the Korean conflict and 246 during the war in Vietnam, according to Pentagon records. An analysis by the Army Times last year said that there were, on average, two or three Medal of Honor recipients for every 100,000 service personnel in previous wars — but only one in one million for the conflicts in Iraq and Afghanistan." Giunta will be the first living Medal of Honor recipient since the Vietnam war.
From the New York Times coverage of the story:
In the most dangerous valley of the most rugged corner of eastern Afghanistan, a small rifle team of airborne soldiers fell into a vicious insurgent ambush, a coordinated attack from three sides.
A young Army specialist, Salvatore A. Giunta, took a bullet to the chest, but was saved by the heavy plates of his body armor. Shaking off the punch from the insurgent round, he jumped up and pulled two wounded soldiers to safety before grabbing hand grenades and running up the trail to where his squad mates had been on foot patrol.
There, he saw a chilling image: Two insurgents hauling one of his American comrades into the forest. Specialist Giunta hurled his grenades and emptied the clip in his automatic rifle, forcing the insurgents to drop the wounded soldier. Still taking fire, he provided cover and comfort to his badly wounded teammate until help arrived.
True stories of combat defy retelling, and he leaves the recounting of the details of that mission on Oct. 25, 2007, to others. “It was one of the worst days of my life, and when I revisit it, it kind of guts me a little bit more every time,” he said on Friday.
But the White House wants to honor his heroism, and announced that for his valor during that mission, Salvatore Giunta of Hiawatha, Iowa, who is now 25 and a staff sergeant, will become the first living service member to receive the Medal of Honor, the military’s most prestigious award, for action during the wars since September 11, 2001.
Thank you for your service Salvatore Giunta!