Today, President Obama awarded Staff Sgt. Salvatore Giunta the Medal of Honor, making him the first living recipient of the award since the Vietnam War. The tale of how he earned this distinction should pretty much guarantee that this man never has to buy another beer in his life. From President Obama’s remarks:
Salvatore Giunta’s time came on October 25, 2007. He was a Specialist then, just 22 years old.
Sal and his platoon were several days into a mission in the Korengal Valley — the most dangerous valley in northeast Afghanistan. The moon was full. The light it cast was enough to travel by without using their night-vision goggles. With heavy gear on their backs, and air support overhead, they made their way single file down a rocky ridge crest, along terrain so steep that sliding was sometimes easier than walking.
They hadn’t traveled a quarter mile before the silence was shattered. It was an ambush, so close that the cracks of the guns and the whizz of the bullets were simultaneous. Tracer fire hammered the ridge at hundreds of rounds per minute — “more,” Sal said later, “than the stars in the sky.”
The Apache gunships above saw it all, but couldn’t engage with the enemy so close to our soldiers. The next platoon heard the shooting, but were too far away to join the fight in time.
And the two lead men were hit by enemy fire and knocked down instantly. When the third was struck in the helmet and fell to the ground, Sal charged headlong into the wall of bullets to pull him to safety behind what little cover there was. As he did, Sal was hit twice — one round slamming into his body armor, the other shattering a weapon slung across his back.
They were pinned down, and two wounded Americans still lay up ahead. So Sal and his comrades regrouped and counterattacked. They threw grenades, using the explosions as cover to run forward, shooting at the muzzle flashes still erupting from the trees. Then they did it again. And again. Throwing grenades, charging ahead. Finally, they reached one of their men. He’d been shot twice in the leg, but he had kept returning fire until his gun jammed.
As another soldier tended to his wounds, Sal sprinted ahead, at every step meeting relentless enemy fire with his own. He crested a hill alone, with no cover but the dust kicked up by the storm of bullets still biting into the ground. There, he saw a chilling sight: the silhouettes of two insurgents carrying the other wounded American away — who happened to be one of Sal’s best friends. Sal never broke stride. He leapt forward. He took aim. He killed one of the insurgents and wounded the other, who ran off.
Sal found his friend alive, but badly wounded. Sal had saved him from the enemy — now he had to try to save his life. Even as bullets impacted all around him, Sal grabbed his friend by the vest and dragged him to cover. For nearly half an hour, Sal worked to stop the bleeding and help his friend breathe until the MEDEVAC arrived to lift the wounded from the ridge. American gunships worked to clear the enemy from the hills. And with the battle over, First Platoon picked up their gear and resumed their march through the valley. They continued their mission.
It had been as intense and violent a firefight as any soldier will experience. By the time it was finished, every member of First Platoon had shrapnel or a bullet hole in their gear. Five were wounded. And two gave their lives: Sal’s friend, Sergeant Joshua C. Brennan, and the platoon medic, Specialist Hugo V. Mendoza.
Hooah. | The 60 Minutes interview with him, including accompanying graphics, here.
Update: A video of the entire ceremony after the jump, courtesy of The White House’s YouTube channel.