Image: Salvatore Giunta
Richard Bumgardner  /  Defense Department via AP
Staff Sgt. Salvatore Giunta fought in Iraq and Afghanistan.
By
updated 11/15/2010 7:37:25 PM ET 2010-11-16T00:37:25

A 25-year-old soldier from Iowa who exposed himself to enemy gunfire to try to save two fellow soldiers will become the first living service member from the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq to receive the Medal of Honor.

President Barack Obama phoned Army Staff Sgt. Salvatore Giunta at the base in Italy where he's stationed to tell him he'd be receiving the nation's highest military honor, Giunta's father told The Associated Press. He will become the eighth service member to receive the Medal of Honor during operations in Iraq and Afghanistan. The seven previous medals were awarded posthumously.

"It's bittersweet for us," said Steven Giunta, of Hiawatha. "We're very proud of Sal. We can't mention that enough, but in this event, two other soldiers were killed and that weighs heavy on us. You get very happy and very proud and then you start dealing with the loss as well. You can't have one without the other."

Giunta was serving as a rifle team leader with Company B 2nd Battalion, 503rd Infantry Regiment when an insurgent ambush split his squad into two groups on Oct. 25, 2007, in the Korengal Valley in Afghanistan, the White House said in a news release.

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Giunta went above and beyond the call of duty when he exposed himself to enemy fire to pull a fellow soldier back to cover. He engaged the enemy again when he saw two insurgents carrying away another soldier, killing one insurgent and wounding the other before providing aid to the injured soldier, who died of his wounds.

"His courage and 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 enemy hands," the White House said.

Giunta, who enlisted in the Army shortly after graduating from Kennedy High School in Cedar Rapids, is now stationed in Italy with the Battle Company of the 173rd Airborne Brigade. He was in his second tour of duty in Afghanistan at the time of the ambush.

Giunta, who was previously awarded a Bronze Star and Purple Heart, among other medals, called his parents after hearing from the president, his father said.

"He was very honored to talk to the president but he's very reserved about it," Steven Giunta said. "It's not something he's comfortable with, the event or the Medal of Honor.

Steven Giunta said his son is humbled because he believes he was just doing what he was supposed to be doing.

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"He mentions every other soldier would have done the same thing. It kind of rocks his world that he's being awarded the Medal of Honor for something each and every one of them would have done. He's very aware of that."

"What a privilege and honor it is and what the men have done over the years to receive it, the feat, the above and beyond portion of it, it's amazing to me," Steven Giunta said.

Giunta will be awarded his medal at a White House ceremony on Tuesday.

The President presented the Medal of Honor posthumously to Staff Sgt. Robert Miller in a White House ceremony on Oct. 6.

Copyright 2010 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

Video: Medal of Honor awarded to living soldier

  1. Transcript of: Medal of Honor awarded to living soldier

    BRIAN WILLIAMS, anchor, (Washington, DC): And tomorrow at the White House , President Obama will award the nation's highest military honor, the Medal of Honor , to Army Staff Sergeant Salvatore Giunta . This is the first time since the Vietnam War that a living recipient will receive the medal for his actions in a war still being fought on foreign soil. Staff Sergeant Giunta of Iowa will be recognized for his actions in battle in the Korengal Valley in Afghanistan , for running into the path of withering fire above and beyond the call of duty to rescue another soldier who was mortally wounded. And when we met up with him at the White House today, as he has before, the sergeant insisted his medal belongs to others, especially his two comrades who did not survive that day. There's a huge "Why me?" component to this decoration. And sometimes the answer is, staff sergeant, because it had to be someone and you did your job that day. I know everyone else did, too, but you did your job that day. That's got to be enough for you.

    Staff Sergeant SALVATORE GIUNTA: It is. I mean, I can -- people can tell me whatever they want, I'll listen. But there's so many -- there's so many more people, not even the ones that are here that can watch it on TV or be there and share that with me and have touched my life directly. That night, Specialist Hugo Mendoza , Sergeant Joshua Brennan , both of them gave everything, every single tomorrow they'll ever have they gave for their country that night. And now people want to shake my hand and congratulate me and tell me how proud of me they are. I know a lot braver people than me, and I know a lot stronger people than me, and I've served with a lot of them. I'm just one of many. I'm, you know, mediocre at best. I'm just a middleman here in this whole scheme of things.

    WILLIAMS: After receiving the medal from President Obama tomorrow, Staff Sergeant Giunta will become the 87th living recipient of the Medal of Honor . The last seven recipients from the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan were killed in action.

Photos: Pre-9/11

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  1. George Sakato, 1921 –

    Says MSNBC military analyst Jack Jacobs, “Sakato was a member of the legendary 442nd Regimental Combat Team, composed almost entirely of Japanese-Americans who had been classified as undesirable aliens – and it became the most decorated unit in the Army in World War II.” When his platoon was pinned down in France, Sakato rushed the enemy’s position. He killed 12, wounded two and captured four.

    With the exception of those who served in Iraq and Afghanistan, the following images come from the book "Medal of Honor: Potraits of Valor Beyond the Call of Duty." Over 3000 people have received the honor; a selection of the recipients appear in the following slideshow.
    (Nick Del Calzo / Congressional Medal of Honor Foundation) Back to slideshow navigation
  2. Joe Foss, 1915-2003

    As a captain, he led a Marine air unit (“Joe’s Flying Circus”) that shot down 72 Japanese planes. He downed 26 himself, tying a record set in World War I. Foss went on to serve as governor of South Dakota, commissioner of the American Football League, and president of the National Rifle Association. Says MSNBC military analyst Jack Jacobs, “Shot down four times in the five-week battle for Guadalcanal, Joe Foss was a fearless Marine fighter pilot who led attacks against superior forces of Japanese air formations.” (Nick Del Calzo / Congressional Medal of Honor Foundation) Back to slideshow navigation
  3. Vernon Baker, 1919 – 2010

    His Distinguished Service Cross was upgraded to a Medal of Honor in 1997 after a military study concluded racial discrimination prevented some World War II awards from being given. As a second lieutenant, Baker fought in Italy, advancing his platoon despite enemy fire and covering the evacuation of wounded soldiers by taking an exposed position. He also led a voluntary advance through a minefield. Says MSNBC military analyst Jack Jacobs “Of his platoon of 25 men, only six survived the battle, and it was Baker’s leadership and individual courage that defeated the enemy.” (Nick Del Calzo / Congressional Medal of Honor Foundation) Back to slideshow navigation
  4. Bob Bush, 1926- 2005

    As a medical corpsman in the Navy, Bush tended to the injured in the battle of Okinawa in 1945. Despite a barrage of artillery, mortar and machine gun fire, Bush cared for the dying. Even after an eye injury, he fired a pistol and an abandoned carbine at the enemy to protect those around him. (Nick Del Calzo / Congressional Medal of Honor Foundation) Back to slideshow navigation
  5. Jack Lucas, 1928 – 2008

    Says MSNBC military analyst Jack Jacobs, “Lucas lied about his age and enlisted in the Marine Corps at the age of 13. At 14 he became an instructor.” As a private, Lucas fought in the battle of Iwo Jima. After an ambush, he flung himself on a grenade and threw another under himself to protect his comrades. (Nick Del Calzo / Congressional Medal of Honor Foundation) Back to slideshow navigation
  6. John Finn, 1909-2010

    Says MSNBC military analyst Jack Jacobs, “Roused from sleep by the attack, he raced to a nearby airfield and moved a machine gun into an exposed position, from which he shot at the attacking Japanese planes.” After receiving first aid, he returned to the squadron area and supervised the re-arming of returning planes during the Battle of Pearl Harbor. (Nick Del Calzo / Congressional Medal of Honor Foundation) Back to slideshow navigation
  7. Lewis Millet, 1920 - 2010

    As an Army captain in the Korean War, Millett led his company in an attack against a strongly-held position. He was in front, with a fixed bayonet, throwing grenades and shouting encouragement to the men behind him. The assault was successful, and despite injury, Millet refused evacuation until his company's position was secure. (Nick Del Calzo / Congressional Medal of Honor Foundation) Back to slideshow navigation
  8. Ronald Rosser, 1929 –

    During the Korean War, when this Army corporal found his men under fire from two directions, he turned his radio over to his assistant and charged the enemy positions armed with only carbine and a grenade. When he exhausted his ammunition, he returned through enemy fire to obtain more ammunition and grenades and charged the hill again. He returned three times to attack enemy positions. (Nick Del Calzo / Congressional Medal of Honor Foundation) Back to slideshow navigation
  9. Tibor Rubin, 1929 -

    This Hungarian-born, Holocaust survivor was an Army rifleman during the Korean War. During one mission, he defended a hill for 24 hours under enemy fire, allowing his company to withdraw to safety. Rubin spent more than two years in a POW camp. Drawing on his experience in a Nazi concentration camp, Rubin swiped food from Chinese and North Korean depots and distributed it among his comrades. Says MSNBC military analyst Jack Jacobs, “He was recommended four separate times for the Medal of Honor, but did not receive it until 2005.” (Nick Del Calzo / Congressional Medal of Honor Foundation) Back to slideshow navigation
  10. Sammy Davis, 1946 –

    During Vietnam, Sgt. Davis’ gun crew came under attack. Despite violent recoils, blasts and injuries, he manned a machine gun to provide cover for his comrades. Then, he picked up an air mattress and struck out across a river to rescue wounded men on the other side. And he didn't know how to swim. (Nick Del Calzo / Congressional Medal of Honor Foundation) Back to slideshow navigation
  11. Bernie Fisher, 1927 –

    During an attack on a special forces camp in Vietnam, Major Fisher observed a fellow airman crash land on an airstrip. Fisher landed his plane and taxied almost the full length of the runway, which was littered with debris and parts of an exploded aircraft. Despite heavy ground fire, he completed his rescue and was able to gain enough speed to take off successfully. (Nick Del Calzo / Congressional Medal of Honor Foundation) Back to slideshow navigation
  12. Roger Donlon, 1934 -

    During a pre-dawn attack on Camp Nam Dong, Capt. Donlon directed defense operations and aborted a breach of the main gate. Despite being wounded in his stomach, shoulder and leg, he crawled from position to position, retrieving weapons, ammunition and injured soldiers. He hurled grenades at the enemy and administered first aid to the wounded. He continued to move around the perimeter until a mortar shell wounded him in the face and body. (Nick Del Calzo / Congressional Medal of Honor Foundation) Back to slideshow navigation
  13. Ed Freeman, 1927 - 2008

    As a flight leader of a helicopter lift unit, Cpt. Freeman supported an infantry battalion in Vietnam. When his landing zone was closed due to direct enemy fire, he flew his unarmed helicopter regardless, risking his life to deliver ammunition and supplies to the soldiers on the ground. He also provided life-saving evacuations to some 30 wounded men. (Nick Del Calzo / Congressional Medal of Honor Foundation) Back to slideshow navigation
  14. Bob Howard, 1939 – 2009

    Howard was a platoon sergeant on a mission to rescue a missing soldier in Vietnam. He was wounded by a grenade explosion, but crawled through enemy fire to retrieve his injured platoon leader. He dragged him back to safety and rallied the soldiers to an organized defense. He then moved from position to position, tending to the injured. Howard supervised the loading of his men and did not leave the landing zone until all were in the air. (Nick Del Calzo / Congressional Medal of Honor Foundation) Back to slideshow navigation
  15. Tom Norris, 1944

    As a Navy SEAL during Vietnam, Lt. Norris completed a ground rescue of two downed pilots deep within enemy territory in Quang Tri Province. After rescuing the first man, Norris dressed as a fisherman and evacuated the second pilot – who he covered with bamboo and vegetation to evade enemy patrols. (Nick Del Calzo / Congressional Medal of Honor Foundation) Back to slideshow navigation
  16. Jack Jacobs, 1945 -

    Serving in Vietnam, Jacobs ordered a withdrawal from an exposed position and established a defensive perimeter after his battalion came under fire. Despite head wounds which impaired his vision, he returned under intense fire to evacuate a seriously wounded advisor. He then returned to evacuate his wounded company commander. Jacobs made repeated trips across the fire-swept rice paddies to evacuate the injured. (Nick Del Calzo / Congressional Medal of Honor Foundation) Back to slideshow navigation
  17. Clarence Sasser, 1947 -

    Serving as a medical aidman during a reconnaissance mission, Spc. Sasser ran across an open rice paddy through a hail of fire to assist the wounded in Vietnam. Refusing medical attention, he gave treatment and searched for wounded men. When injuries immobilized him, he dragged himself to tend to an ailing soldier. From a position of relative safety, he cared for a group of men for five hours until they were evacuated. (Nick Del Calzo / Congressional Medal of Honor Foundation) Back to slideshow navigation
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  1. Nick Del Calzo / Congressional Medal of Honor Foundation
    Above: Slideshow (17) Medal of Honor recipients - Pre-9/11
  2. Image: William Swenson
    Alex Brandon / AP
    Slideshow (14) Medal of Honor recipients - Post-9/11

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