Find out why most recent Medal of Honor winners have not been alive to receive the honor.
By Larry Shaughnessy, CNN
— Medals of Honor have been rare since the end of the Vietnam war. And
not one of the recipients from the Somalia, Iraq or Afghanistan
deployments have been alive to have the iconic blue ribbon with the gold
star draped around his neck. Until now.
The White House Friday
announced that Staff Sgt. Salvatore Giunta, 25, of Hiawatha, Iowa, will
be awarded the nation's highest medal for valor for his actions in
Afghanistan, and he will come to the White House to receive the medal
A date for the ceremony has not been announced.
was a specialist serving with the Airborne 503rd Infantry Regiment on
his second tour of duty in Afghanistan when his unit was attacked on the
night of October 25, 2007.
According to Defense Department
documents, Giunta and his fellow soldiers were walking back to base
along the top of a mountain ridge when the enemy attacked from their
front and their left. Taliban fighters barraged the Americans with
AK-47s, rocket propelled grenades and Soviet-era large machine guns.
saw several of his fellow soldiers go down. He ran forward, throwing
grenades and returning enemy fire, to help one soldier who had been shot
but was still fighting, the documents say. Then he noticed one of the
wounded soldiers was missing.
Searching for his wounded friend
Sgt. Josh Brennan, Giunta ran over a hill where moments before Taliban
fighters had been shooting at him. Now he was alone, out of sight of his
fellow soldiers, in an area that the Taliban had controlled just
Giunta saw two Taliban fighters dragging Brennan away. He ran after them, killing one and wounding the other, who ran off.
instantly started providing first aid to Brennan, who had been shot at
least six times, the documents say. Eventually a medic arrived and a
helicopter was called in to take Brennan to a hospital, but he later
died of his wounds.
Giunta's action, however, meant that Brennan
was not at the mercy of the Taliban, and his parents would be able to
give him a proper burial instead of wondering what became of him.
quick response to the Taliban attack also helped his unit repulse the
enemy fighters before they could cause more casualties, the Defense
Department documents note.
Giunta was shot twice, with one round
hitting his body armor and the second destroying a weapon slung over his
back. He was not seriously hurt.
President Barack Obama called
Giunta, a native of Hiawatha, Iowa, on Thursday to inform him of the
honor and to thank him for "extraordinary bravery in battle," a White
House statement said.
Giunta, who was recently married, is
currently with the 2nd Battalion, 503rd Infantry based in Vicenza,
Italy. "He is responsible for the health, morale, welfare, training and
accountability of all assigned personnel," the Army said. He has served
two combat tours in Afghanistan.
Since the Vietnam war the only
Medals of Honor not given posthumously have been those that were awarded
after actions were reconsidered. Among those was Vernon Baker, an
African-American solider who performed heroically fighting the Nazis in
Italy, but didn't get the award until 1997 because of racism in the
military during World War II. Baker passed away this past July.
the past several years, the Pentagon has made a concerted effort to
recognize the valor of a living soldier, Marine, sailor or airman.
has been a source of real concern to me," Defense Secretary Robert
Gates said last year. "I think it was one of President Bush's real
regrets that he did not have the opportunity to honor a living Medal of
Honor recipient. Gates also was defense chief in the final two years of
On Thursday, the White House announced
that Obama will award the Medal of Honor posthumously to U.S. Army Staff
Sgt. Robert J. Miller for "conspicuous gallantry" and "heroic actions"
in Afghanistan in January 2008. Miller sacrificed his life "to save the
lives of his teammates and 15 Afghanistan National Army soldiers," the
White House said.
And last week the White House announced that
Obama also intends to award the Medal of Honor to Air Force Chief Master
Sgt. Richard Etchberger for his valor in saving the lives of three
wounded comrades at a then-secret base in Laos in 1968. Enemy fighters
shot and killed Etchberger after he saved his fellow airmen.
than 3,500 Medals of Honor have been awarded since the medal was
established during the Civil War. According to the medal criteria,
recipients must demonstrate "conspicuous gallantry and intrepidity at
the risk of his or her life above and beyond the call of duty."