Saturday, September 11, 2010

Top Medal Is Awarded To Honor Sergeant's Bravery

On a moonlit Afghan ridge in 2007, Staff Sgt. Salvatore Giunta ran alone through a barrage of gunfire to rescue a friend being dragged off by insurgent fighters.

On Friday, the White House said Sgt. Giunta will receive the Medal of Honor for his bravery, making him the first living serviceman from the Iraq or Afghan wars to receive the nation's highest military award.

"His courage and leadership while under extreme enemy fire were integral to his platoon's ability defeat an enemy ambush and recover a fellow American paratrooper from enemy hands," the White House said.

President Barack Obama called Sgt. Giunta, a 25-year-old born in Cedar Rapids, Iowa, at his base in Italy on Thursday to tell him the news.

The selection of a living Medal of Honor recipient comes as welcome news to the military. The seven medals from Iraq or Afghanistan announced until now had been for men killed performing the acts of courage for which they were being recognized.

The medal is reserved for those who risk their lives beyond what duty requires.

Sgt. Giunta's action came on his second deployment to Afghanistan, when his unit—Co. B, 2nd Battalion, 503rd Infantry Regiment (Airborne)—was operating in the Korengal Valley, at the time considered the most dangerous spot in the country for U.S. troops.

On the night of Oct. 25, Sgt. Joshua Brennan led Sgt. Giunta's squad single-file along the top of a rocky spur, according to Sebastian Junger's 2010 book "War." Sgt. Giunta, then holding the rank of specialist, was fourth in line when the patrol walked into an ambush, with 13 insurgents spraying them with rifle, machine-gun and rocket-propelled grenade fire from as close as 15 to 20 feet.

"Out of nothing—out of taking your next step—just rows of tracers, RPGs, everything happening out of nowhere with no real idea of how it just f— happened," Sgt. Giunta told Mr. Junger.

Sgt. Brennan was hit eight times. Sgt. Giunta, who had a Purple Heart from his first combat tour, was hit in the ceramic chest plate of his body armor. A rocket strapped to his back absorbed a second hit, according to the Army.

Under fire, Sgt. Giunta first helped a staff sergeant who had been hit in the helmet. He and two other soldiers threw hand grenades to clear a path to two other men isolated ahead of them.

After tossing his final grenade, Sgt. Giunta ran toward where he thought he would find Sgt. Brennan. Instead, he saw two insurgents dragging the sergeant away. Sgt. Giunta emptied his rifle at them, and then chased them down the hill.

His shots killed one insurgent. Wounded, the other fighter released Sgt. Brennan and fled. Sgt. Giunta called for a medic and pulled his friend to cover.

"I didn't run through fire to save a buddy—I ran through fire to see what was going on with him and maybe we could hide behind the same rock and shoot together," Sgt. Giunta said in the book. "I didn't run through fire to do anything heroic or brave; I did what I believe anyone would have done."

Airstrikes ended the firefight. Sgt. Brennan, 22, from McFarland, Wisc., died in surgery at a nearby base. A medic, Spc. Hugh Mendoza, 29, of Glendale, Ariz., died after being shot through the femur. Five other paratroopers survived their wounds.

1 comment:

  1. Been awhile since I stopped in to visit. Good article. I attended a memorial dedication yesterday (9-11) in a small Illinois town for an airman who performed a similar act of bravery but did not survive. When war is boiled down to its moast basic element, it is not about silent drones, satellites in the sky or spectacular new weapons systems. War is about Joe, Mike, and Susan stuck in some hellhole somewhere thousands of miles from home, each of them having the back of their comrade. Respects, "Squirts" VFW Post 1117, Illinois


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