Nightly News   |  November 16, 2010

Inspired by a hero, Obama goes off-script

Awarding the Medal of Honor, the nation's highest military honor, to the young Army Staff Sgt. Sal Giunta at the White House on Tuesday, President Obama broke from his prepared remarks to say, "I really like this guy." NBC's Brian Williams reports.

Share This:

This content comes from a Full-Text Transcript of the program.

BRIAN WILLIAMS, anchor: to turn now to what happened at the White House today. The president awarded the Medal of Honor , this nation's highest military decoration , to a young staff sergeant who's already a combat veteran of the war in Afghanistan . When we met him in Washington yesterday, Staff Sergeant Salvatore Giunta told me he remembers the night a few years ago when he was mopping up at the Subway restaurant where he worked. He heard a radio commercial about a free T-shirt giveaway by Army recruiters at the local shopping mall the next day. He went to the mall. He got his T-shirt and he listened to them. He then went home and broke it to his parents that an Army career appealed to him. Well, fast forward to today. Sal Giunta was hailed by President Obama as the very best shining example of the US Armed Forces .

President BARACK OBAMA: It is my privilege to present our nation's highest military decoration , the Medal of Honor , to a soldier as humble as he is heroic, Staff Sergeant Salvatore A. Giunta .

WILLIAMS: And with that, a modest 25-year-old soldier from Hiawatha , Iowa , joined a long line of this nation's very best, dating back to the Civil War .

Pres. OBAMA: I'm going to go off script here for a second and just say, I really like this guy.

WILLIAMS: Giunta 's act of valor took place during a fierce fire fight in Afghanistan 's remote Korengal Valley . His platoon was pinned down when he saw two insurgents carrying off his mortally wounded sergeant. Giunta ran into the oncoming fire. He killed one insurgent, wounded the other, and dragged his friend to cover. Sergeant Joshua Brennan later died following the fire fight that left two Americans dead and five wounded.

Staff Sergeant SALVATORE GIUNTA: The thing that I did, that is so well documented now and so talked about over and over again, I was only able to do that because everyone else was doing everything they could. I -- there was nothing else for me to do but that. If I didn't do that, I would have been wrong.

WILLIAMS: He is the first living recipient of the Medal of Honor in nearly 40 years. The last recipient who was alive to receive the nation's top military honor served during the Vietnam War .

Pres. OBAMA: This medal today is a testament to his uncommon valor, but also to the parents and the community that raised him, the military that trained him, and all the men and women who served by his side.

WILLIAMS: And when the president places the medal around your neck, you will, in fact, feel that you're wearing it for a whole bunch of guys. And you'll get there mentally, but I guess you realize that's the journey you have to be on now.

Staff Sgt. GIUNTA: It's all kind of fallen into place that way, but there's no way I can wear the Medal of Honor for myself. I can't. It's too big for me. I can't bear that myself. It's not for me. If I'm going to be the one that's up there and gets it, that's fine. But by no means is that mine. I'm just the one there at that time. It's for all these people from Iraq and Afghanistan . All of these unsung heroes.

WILLIAMS: What an incredible young man. The last seven Medal of Honor recipients , by the way, were killed in action in Iraq and Afghanistan . As of today , Sergeant Giunta becomes the 87th living recipient of the Medal of Honor . We'll take