New Medal of Honor Recipient

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Sgt. Giunta receives the Congressional Medal of Honor from President Obama, November 16th, 2010. Photo by: Chuck Kennedy, White House Photographer

By: Sam Lukason

On October 23, 2007, Sgt. Giunta saved his comrade, Sgt. Joshua Brennan, from Taliban insurgents at great personal risk and for this President Obama awarded him the Congressional Medal of Honor on November 16, 2010. The Korengal Valley: christened the Valley of Death by American forces, it is a six-mile-long dale in northeastern Afghanistan. It is home to hundreds of Taliban insurgents and the valley is the tree-speckled graveyard of forty-two United States servicemen. It has a past riddled with blood and violence. Upon first view of the valley, it looks quaint and almost peaceful. Small ridges spotted with green trees and sloping hills create a sense of ease and tranquility. In fact, the valley’s beauty has attracted a local population, a group of simple farmers trying to survive off the land. Their heritage can be traced back to the days of the Russian invasion of Afghanistan, where the rebel army, then known as the mujahadeen, fought against Soviet occupation.

The Korengal Valley’s isolated geographic location has made it an ideal hideout for Taliban smuggling bands, groups that run weapons in and out of Pakistan. Some time ago, this drew the attention of American military commanders.

Amid the mountainous terrain, the cracks and pops of assault rifles are so frequent as to be considered normality. American soldiers are stationed in small outposts–little more than a collection of tents surrounded by wire fences–that dot the hillside. . 50-caliber machine guns line the perimeter of each outpost, facing into the hostile six miles of expanse to guard from Taliban insurgents hiding in the hills. In the unstoppable heat of the Afghanistan sun, a soldier’s day usually begins with the crackle of guns and the roar of RPGs echoing into their array of tents. After their daily morning flaunt with death, soldiers gear up and embark on physically draining patrols of the valley, searching for the suspected weapons traffickers. It was at the conclusion of one of these patrols that valor was displayed in its purest form.

On October 25, 2007, after concluding an overwatch mission of second and third platoons, first platoon was ready to return to Combat Outpost Vimot. The sun’s rays had almost receded over the crest of the valley and night was not far off. The eight men of first platoon were lead by Alpha Team Leader Sergeant Joshua Brennan. A Specialist at the time, Salvatore Giunta followed close behind under a now-full moon. No one expected what came next. Rocket-propelled grenades, shouts, yells, the hiss and cracks of assault rifles, and the deep rumbling of belt-fed machine guns tore up the night. First platoon of second battalion had stumbled into a well-executed L-shaped Taliban ambush. As Sgt. Giunta recalled, “There were more bullets than stars in the sky.” The number of hostiles was unknown. With only the enemy muzzle flashes as indicators of hostile positions, the American soldiers of first platoon returned fire.

Almost immediately after the initiation of the exchange of fire, six AK-47 rounds hit point-man Sgt. Brennan. Falling to the ground, he lay with barrages of gunfire zinging over his head, and he was firing his weapon the entire time. Giunta and another soldier from first platoon alternated throwing their fragmentation grenades and firing their weapons as they sought cover. However, it was what Giunta did next that defined him as a soldier befitting the greatest military honor. Under ceaseless fire from the insurgents, Giunta noticed two silhouettes against the night backdrop, and they were forcibly dragging a third. Recognizing the third body as one of his comrades, Giunta left the relative safety of his cover behind a rock and sprinted after his fellow soldier. Giunta had no other comrades to provide covering fire or direct assistance. He was one man against thousands of rounds that came from men who wanted nothing more than to kill him. Giunta, without a moment’s hesitation, had abandoned his own safety, his very life now in the hands of twelve-gram subsonic showers of lead.

Giunta kept running and firing after the men who wished his best friend, Sgt. Brennan, dead–or, considering the Taliban’s treatment of other prisoners of war, worse than dead. After cresting a small rise in one of the many hills lining the valley, he was able to shoot one of the Taliban insurgents and this scared the other into the clear night. After thirty minutes of intense fire–Giunta had been shot twice–he began to go through the predefined military medical checklists on his friend, Sgt. Brennan. The threat of having Brennan taken by Taliban insurgents, who, as precedence has proven, use hostages for unseemly purposes was avoided on account of the sheer heroics of a determined soldier. Unfortunately, despite the best efforts of all on his team, Sgt. Brennan died from his injuries that night back at the outpost. On his brave actions in the field, Sgt. Giunta said, ““All of these great people who have given everything–and they can’t be here for the handshake and they can’t be here for the congratulations.”

Three years later, Giunta, now a Sergeant, was awarded the highest military honor that can be given to a soldier: the Congressional Medal of Honor. He is the first living soldier since Vietnam to be honored with this symbolic gesture. Only those military personnel classified by, as the military defines it, “gallantry and intrepidity at the risk of his or her life above and beyond the call of duty” are qualified. Due to Sgt. Giunta’s actions that night, Sgt. Brennan’s body was brought home. He was brought home and given a funeral befitting of a United States serviceman who gave the greatest sacrifice for his country. President Barack Obama bestowed Sgt. Giunta’s medal on November 16, 2010.

This heroic soldier is the embodiment of modesty. In a recent 60 Minutes interview, he called himself “mediocre” as compared with other men currently serving in the armed forces. Mediocrity played no part in these events; indeed, these actions reflected the truest nature of a soldier serving in any of the armed forces.

Currently, the Medal of Honor recipient is stationed on an Army base in Italy with his wife, Jenny.

Mr. Michael McFarland, a teacher at Hopkinton High School who is currently serving in the Navy Reserves, said simply and with conviction on the matter, “Giunta did what most soldiers in his position would do.”

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