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Salvatore A. Giunta

U.S. Army / Medal of Honor

His actions turned the tide of the battle

In October 2007, Staff Sergeant Salvatore Giunta was serving his second tour of duty in Afghanistan. The 22-year old Iowa native was a company rifle team leader assigned to the rugged Korengal Valley, an area known to U.S. forces as the “Valley of Death” because of its status as a Taliban stronghold.

Giunta, who then was an Army specialist, and his unit were deployed on an offensive named Operation Rock Avalanche. Its mission was to disrupt Taliban transit routes and establish good relations with residents in the valley.

On October 25, Giunta’s 1st Platoon was stationed on a ridgeline watching the 2nd and 3rd platoon units down in the valley meeting with locals.

The soldiers could hear radio chatter by insurgents during the day. But, Giunta said later, “you expect that. You’re going to hear … chatter that says all sorts of crazy, off-the-wall stuff. And be it true or not, I mean, that’s what we came there to do. We – we’re waiting for them.”

As the unit departed the ridge, darkness was falling, but the men were able to walk freely by moonlight.

Suddenly the platoon was ambushed by 10 to 15 insurgents concealed about 30 feet away. The insurgents were armed with 10 rocket propelled grenades, three PKM machine guns and AK-47 rifles

The insurgents poured withering firepower on Giunta’s platoon, immediately wounding Staff Sgt. Joshua Brennan, who was walking point, and Spc. Franklin Eckrode. Spc. Hugo Mendoza, the platoon medic, was shot and killed.

“There were more bullets in the air then stars in the sky,” Giunta said. “ It was a wall of bullets.”

The platoon scrambled for cover. Giunta directed his team to provide suppressing fire against the enemy, assigning sectors of fire and directing his M-203 gunner to take on close targets.

When his squad leader, Staff Sgt. Erick Gallardo, was hit in the helmet by an AK-47 bullet and fell to the ground, Giunta immediately ran to his aid. Giunta was struck by a bullet, which hit his armored chest protector and knocked him down.

Picking himself up, he continued to lead the assault on the enemy and helped rescue Eckrode. But Brennan was missing.

Giunta ran after insurgents who were trying to carry Brennan away. Giunta killed one insurgent and wounded the other, who then ran off. He carried a badly wounded Brennan to safety. However, the sergeant later died from his wounds.

The remaining insurgents fled.

Giunta’s platoon mates credited him with turning the tide of the battle and with saving the platoon from being wiped out. He was presented the Medal of Honor by President Barack Obama at a White House ceremony on Nov.16, 2010, becoming the first living recipient of the nation’s highest award for valor since the Vietnam War.

“It’s a huge honor,” Giunta said. “But it does bring back memories of the people I would like to share this with who are no longer with us”.

“I didn’t run up to do anything heroic,” Giunta said. “Everyone’s been shot at and I might as well run forward. By no means did I do anything heroic.”

James C. Roberts is president of the American Veterans Center. From 1968 to 1971 he served as a naval officer aboard the destroyer USS Henderson.

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President Barack Obama presents the Medal of Honor to Staff Sgt. Salvatore Giunta in the East Room of the White House on November 16, 2010. (Official White House photo)

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Salvatore A. Giunta

U.S. Army / Medal of Honor

Born January 21, 1985 in Clinton, Iowa; Resident of Iowa until May 24, 2004. Family lives in Hiawatha, Iowa. 22 years of age at the time of cited incident.

He is married to Jennifer Lynn. Born.

When he was 17 Giunta was working part-time at a Subway sandwich shop in the local mall when he heard Army recruiters were giving away t-shirts. When he went to pick up a t-shirt, he decided to enlist.

Giunta was scheduled to leave the Army in June and planned to move to Colorado to attend college.

Afghanistan / Korengal Valley

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