Sal Giunta does not enjoy wearing his Medal of Honor.
Since he received the award at a White House ceremony last fall, the 26-year-old Afghanistan war hero has only worn the bulky medal at official Army gatherings, charity events and media appearances.
“It’s difficult every time I put it on,” he told Stars and Stripes. “The second I throw the medal on, it’s kind of a spotlight. It definitely comes with a heavy weight and responsibility. It’s always easier not to have it on.”
On Nov. 16, 2010, Guinta became the first living Medal of Honor recipient from the current wars, honored for sprinting across a battlefield in 2008 to save a wounded soldier who was being dragged away by enemy fighters.
The ensuing months have been a blur for Giunta, shuffling from one appearance to the next. He appeared on "The Late Show with David Letterman." He was cheered at the Super Bowl two months later. He’s been the guest of honor at dozens of other veterans and charity dinners.
He says he’s flown enough miles to circle the globe six times.
As much as possible, he tries to steer the attention to the more than two million American men and women serving in the military around the world.
“It’s not about me,” he insists. “It’s about all these other people, but nobody is putting a camera on them or giving them a microphone. It’s never my story, it’s our story. I’ve never done anything alone, but I tend to be the only one standing there. ...
“It’s all very positive, there’s so many positive events. But it also gets tiring.”
Last month, Giunta quietly stepped away from the military to move to Colorado. He admits that he’s looking forward to the partial anonymity civilian life can bring.
“I was planning on getting out of the military before [learning he’d receive the medal],” he said. “Part of staying in the military now already takes me out of my comfort zone, my peer group. I’m no longer with other staff sergeants. I sit at tables with generals.
“The Army would probably let me do most anything I’d want to do. But this was a one-time event. I can earn my keep day by day. Let me prove myself every single day. Don’t base my whole life off of one event one time in some foreign country.”
He plans to attend Colorado State this fall, and is considering majoring in natural resources management. He and his wife, Jenny, are expecting their first child early next year, thrilling news that has him more nervous than his Army days.
Giunta said he doubts he’ll talk about the medal much with his college classmates.
“There’s a time to represent the men and women in uniform, and there’s a time that hopefully is just to be Sal,” he said. “In Colorado, at home and at school, I’m just the same as everyone else.”
Reporter Jeff Schogol contributed to this story.