Living MOH means celebration, not sadness
Published: November 17, 2010
WASHINGTON -- Tuesday’s White House ceremony honoring Staff Sgt. Salvatore Giunta was the eighth Medal of Honor presentation I’ve covered for Stars and Stripes. But it was the first one I’ve been at where the whistles and hoots from the crowd made the honoree blush.
Giunta’s Army buddies snapped pictures of themselves and the president, clapping and cheering at every opportunity. His parents sat in the front row, beaming with pride. President Barack Obama cracked several jokes during his speech, including comparing a teenage Giunta’s penchant for sneaking out his bedroom window to early paratrooper training. That drew booming laughter from the crowd.
That’s not to say the event wasn’t respectful. The president took time to acknowledge the parents of the two soldiers killed during Giunta’s heroic mission, and the honoree did that again when speaking to reporters later.
But, from an observer’s viewpoint, it was a fun event. And that’s not the usual description.
The medal presentations are usually solemn, quick ceremonies, for the simple reason that the man being honored so often isn’t there to accept the award. Giunta is the eighth servicemember to receive the award for actions in the current wars, but the other seven were posthumous honors. Instead, proud but somber parents have accepted the medal in their place, surrounded by family and friends still in mourning.
The first two medal ceremonies I covered -- for Korean war vet Tibor Rubin and Vietnam vet Bruce Crandall – both had living recipients present, decades after their war heroics. Those were much more upbeat ceremonies, with then-President George W. Bush smiling and personally thanking the living veterans for their heroics and patience.
But Tuesday’s crowd was much younger, and much louder. Every round of applause was accompanied by a shout of “Hoo-ah.” They joked around before and after the ceremony, and traded glances with Giunta as he stood at attention on the stage.
And Giunta, who held his emotions in check for most of the event, smiled broadly when he spoke to reporters briefly afterwards. He accepted the award on behalf of the thousands of troops performing heroic work every day.
“It means the world to me to have the great men and women of the United States military behind me, supporting me,” he said.