VICENZA, Italy — When word leaked out in September that the decision had been made to present him with the military’s highest honor for bravery, Staff Sgt. Salvatore Giunta was conducting inventory in his battalion’s weapons area.
He told a public affairs officer that interviews with reporters interested in talking to the country’s first living Medal of Honor recipient for the ongoing war in Afghanistan would have to wait until he was finished.
Since then, Giunta hasn’t done a lot of that kind of work.
“No more inventories,” he said with a laugh Monday after a farewell ceremony at Caserma Ederle, a base he’s called home for parts of the last seven years. He’ll be leaving Italy this week and — after taking advantage of some accrued leave — will be out of the Army in June.
Instead, the 26-year-old has been feted around the U.S. as the face of the modern American soldier.
“The last four months have been exciting and fast and hectic,” he said. “I didn’t know I was going to be that involved in the speaking circuit.”
Giunta isn’t comfortable talking about himself or his actions on Oct. 25, 2007. In the nightmarish Korengal valley, Giunta and his unitmates were ambushed. Amid a hail of bullets and RPG rounds, Giunta pulled one wounded soldier from the battlefield to safety and hunted down two insurgents carrying away a dying soldier, bringing him back to the unit.
He said he’s talked with other living Medal of Honor recipients and agreed that the honor presents opportunities to talk about the efforts of his fellow soldiers.
“And I could talk about them all day,” he said.
Giunta said his post-Army plans include attending Colorado State University. He hasn’t been accepted yet.
“I had meant to get it done about six months ago, then …,” he shrugged with a smile indicating the events going on around him.
Standing on the stage of the base theater shortly after receiving the U.S. Army Meritorious Service Medal from Maj. Gen. David R. Hogg, Giunta delivered a few thoughts to his fellow soldiers. Many were members of Company B, 2nd Battalion, 503rd Infantry Regiment — known as Battle Company.
“Lately, I’ve been able to stand up in front of a lot of people and say a lot of things,” Giunta said, but standing in front of his fellow troops meant a lot. “It really means the world to me to stand up here with people I’ve served with.”
He helped unveil three plaques that will soon be on display in the base’s Hall of Heroes, the battalion headquarters and the headquarters of the 173rd Airborne Brigade Combat Team.
“We acknowledge your courage, your sacrifice,” Hogg said. “Thanks for being a soldier.”