As the latest living Medal of Honor recipient, Army Staff Sgt. Salvatore Giunta is now entitled to privileges that include a monthly stipend and priority when flying Space-A on military aircraft. His future children won’t need a Congressional sponsor to apply to the military academies.
But is he entitled to a salute from all troops, even those who outrank him?
"We’re going to make sure to salute him every chance we get,” Giunta’s former team leader Staff Sgt. Erick Gallardo told bloggers Wednesday, a day after attending a White House ceremony during which Giunta become the first living recipient from the war on terror.
“But it’s not going to change anything. It’s customs and courtesies. He deserves it for what he did, and that’s part of the honor of the medal. But he’s still Sal to us. He’s just got a prettier medal than the rest of us.”
Officially, there is no law or military regulation requiring all servicemembers to salute Medal of Honor recipients, but you are allowed to do so when the recipient is physically wearing the medal, according to the Congressional Medal of Honor Society.
The tradition of saluting recipients comes from an Army tradition of having them take part in military parades, during which they would stand with an officer during the “pass in review,” and both would return salutes from commanders as they passed by, according to the society.
Air Force Col. Leo Thorsness, president of the society, said he has been saluted by superior officers since being awarded the Medal of Honor. A few years back, he was even saluted by President George W. Bush.
“We are treated better than we deserve,” Thorsness joked.
One privilege of being a recipient is getting invited to functions throughout the year.They also speak to schoolchildren about the Medal of Honor’s values. But wearing the medal also brings added responsibility.
“We try to live up to the standards embedded in the Medal of Honor,” Thorsness said. “There’s [all] the values of integrity and selfless service and patriotism– and trying to live it more than just talk about it.”
Retired Marine Corps Col. Barney Barnum said wearing the medal can be more difficult than earning it. For Giunta, it will mean being placed on a pedestal.
“You’re on parade all the time, and I tell you, there are times that he’s just gonna walk away from everybody because you get tired of being patted on the back,” Barnum said.
While Medal of Honor recipients are treated with a great deal of reverence, they are still expected to live up to military standards, and they are not above being corrected, he said.
When asked how someone could chew out a recipient, Barnum replied, “Oh, let me tell you, do you want to see the bites in my [rear end].”
THE RUMOR DOCTOR’S DIAGNOSIS: You are not required to salute Giunta and other living Medal of Honor recipients, but there’s nothing stopping you either. Go ahead. Just whatever you do, don’t call him a Medal of Honor “winner.” There’s no contest for the nation’s highest military award, and the ones who wear it do so for all their buddies, especially the ones who didn’t make it back.
Stars and Stripes reporter Leo Shane III contributed to this report.