U.S. Army Europe paratrooper receives Medal of Honor

By U.S. Army Europe Public Affairs
Nov. 16, 2010

WASHINGTON -- President Barack Obama praises Staff Sgt. Salvatore Giunta of U.S. Army Europe's 173rd Airborne Brigade Combat Team just before presenting the Medal of Honor to Giunta in a ceremony at the White House, Nov. 16. The sergeant earned America's highest award for valor in combat for his actions during an ambush in Afghanistan's Korengal Valley in 2007. (Photo by Richard Bumgardner)
WASHINGTON -- President Barack Obama praises Staff Sgt. Salvatore Giunta of U.S. Army Europe's 173rd Airborne Brigade Combat Team just before presenting the Medal of Honor to Giunta in a ceremony at the White House, Nov. 16. The sergeant earned America's highest award for valor in combat for his actions during an ambush in Afghanistan's Korengal Valley in 2007. (Photo by Richard Bumgardner)

HEIDELBERG, Germany -- President Barack Obama presented the Medal of Honor to Staff Sgt. Salvatore Giunta of U.S. Army Europe's 173rd Airborne Brigade Combat Team in a ceremony at the White House Nov. 16.

Giunta earned America's highest honor for courage in combat for his actions during an ambush in Afghanistan’s Korengal Valley in October 2007.

At the White House ceremony Obama recounted the sergeant’s actions in Afghanistan, comparing him to fabled World War II hero Audie Murphy and calling Giunta “a Soldier as humble as he is heroic.”

“I'm going to go off the script for a while and say, 'I really like this guy,'” Obama said to laughter and applause from the audience.

“When you meet [Giunta and his family] you are absolutely convinced this is what America is all about, and it just makes you proud,” the president added.

Giunta's platoon was ambushed at close range by an enemy force. During the firefight that followed, Giunta, then a specialist, organized his squad to repel the attack and moved through enemy fire to help and recover wounded comrades.

“I didn't run up to do anything heroic,” said Giunta during an interview shortly after the president called him in September to tell him he would get the Medal of Honor. “If I’m a hero, every man that stands around me, every woman in the military, everyone who goes into the unknown, is a hero.”

The 25-year-old sergeant from Hiawatha, Iowa enlisted in November 2003 and has served his entire military career with the 173rd’s Battle Company, 2nd Battalion, 503rd Infantry Regiment. The brigade is based in Vicenza, Italy, with battalions stationed there and in Bamberg and Schweinfurt, Germany.

The nomination documents for the award recommended Giunta for the Medal of Honor for his “selfless actions and personal courage, which were decisive factors in changing the tide of the battle. ... Despite bullets impacting on and around him, Spc. Giunta fearlessly advanced on the enemy and provided aid to his fallen comrades. His actions saved the lives of multiple paratroopers and changed the course of the battle in his platoon’s favor.”

Giunta is the first living American Soldier to receive the Medal of Honor since the Vietnam War, and the second Europe-based Soldier to earn it since the start of post-9/11 combat operations. Spc. Ross McGinnis of 1st Infantry Division’s Schweinfurt-based Company C, 1st Battalion, 26th Infantry was posthumously awarded the medal in 2008 for saving the lives of his fellow team members by throwing himself on an enemy grenade during a firefight in Baghdad in 2006.

Earning the medal is bittersweet, Giunta said in his September interview.

“It's emotional and it's great...but it does bring back a lot of memories of all the people I would have loved to share this moment with. And I’m just not going to have that opportunity because they're no longer with us, because they gave everything for their country.”