Salvatore Giunta was awarded
The Medal of Honor for Bravery on the Field of Battle by President Barack Obama last week and sat down with Stephen Colbert in an interview on November 18th to discuss the highest honor our nation can bestow on anyone.
"People call you a hero, do you like that?" Colbert asked him.
"I know a lot of heroes," Giunta said. "I serve with heroes. I can be with those guys, as long as...they call us all a hero."
"Now that you have that Medal," Colbert said "for the rest of your life you represent more than just yourself. You represent the Army, and what this nation considers the height of honor, of putting yourself in danger in a particular way, above the call of duty, as it says."
"I represent not just the Army," Giunta said, "but all service men and women serving overseas, past and present."
Salvatore Giunta is the only living recipient of the Honor since the Vietnam War.
Giunta received the military's highest valorous decoration for having gone beyond the call of duty to prevent the capture of Sargeant Joshua Brennan who was hit by six rounds of ammunition.
Coalition forces are assisting the Afghan government in its efforts to wrestle Korengal Valley from illict trade and warlord control. Abandoning Afghan women to the tyranous misogyny of these terrorists is not an option, and the greater good for Afghanistan is being defined by the country's new if not also problematic democracy.
Under Company Commander Dan Kearney, Giunta's Platoon 1 was returning from a protection mission where Platoon 2 and Platoon 3 were meeting with village elders to retrieve equipment that had been stolen in the murder of their friend by Taliban fighters--that of respected Staff Sergeant Larry Rougle.
Under moonlight, Giunta and eighteen others, including a nurse in the other unit, proceeded through a thin holly forest on a ridge nearly 8,000 feet above the valley as they returned to base after a long day on protective duty. It was then that Taliban terrorists with AK47s, grenade launchers and machine guns ambushed the American platoon.
Of the surprise attack, Giunta told Colbert that there were more bullets in the air "than stars in the sky."
22 year old alpha team leader Sargeant Joshua Brennan was brutally hit by six rounds of fire and SPC Frank Eckrode was hit twice in the same leg. The other squad's medic, Specialist Hugo Mendoza was shot in the aorta and bled to death.
Under fire from all directions, Sal Giunto, jumped from his defensive position to lead PFC Kaleb Casey and Garret Clary to assist Sargeant Gallardo up ahead and whom Giunta saw jerk violently and fall.
Giunta was struck in the front and back by fire coming in an L-shaped ambush. He did not die because his chest and spine were protected by his gear. He was undeterred.
They were able to pull Gallardo to safety. PFC Kaleb Casey and Garret Clary fired on the enemy to prevent the Taliban ambush from overtaking the unit, as backup was minutes away.
The men reached their fellow soldier, Eckrode, who was seriously injured. The small platoon was surrounded and yet able to interrupt the enemy's advancement with alternating grenade volleys.
Giunta thought of Brennan, and jumped from his position to cross the ridge under intense fire, breaking through to where his fellow soldier was to have been. The Taliban went into retreat at Giunta's advance, and he pursued them.
Giunta discovered two Taliban terrorists dragging Sargeant Joshua Brennan by his legs and arms while he was still conscious and grievously wounded.
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.'"
The ambush had lasted three minutes when Platoon 2 and 3 arrived to provide back-up. Joshua Brennan fought to live through the next day, dying while in surgery.
Two days later Captain Kearney informed Sargeant Giunta that he was nominating him for the Medal of Honor.
President Barack Obama bestowed the Medal upon Sargeant Giunta during a ceremony at the White House on November 16, 2010. The surviving highly decorated members of his squad also attended.
Giunta told Colbert: "Honestly it's not about me...Out of all the times that I have seen combat in Afghanistan i have never been alone. I've never been shot-at alone. I've never been left alone since I've been in the Army; and this is for everyone that I've served with, trained-up for, everyone in Afghanistan since 2001; Iraq since 2003; all the people who are out there every single day giving everything they have for this country, that don't wear this around their neck. Because there's amazing acts of bravery that they actually do that just aren't documented well enough to receive this award but it doesn't change what they did, they gave their lives for their country, so I can't take credit for this at all. I'm wearing it now but that's just because they gave it to me."