Eight men have received the Medal of Honor for actions in the current wars, but until last fall none had ever survived to accept the military honor himself. In November, friends and family of Staff Sgt. Salvatore Giunta watched President Barack Obama present him with the nation’s highest military honor.

Giunta, a 25-year-old soldier from the Italy-based 173rd Airborne Brigade, earned the award for his heroism during his second deployment to Afghanistan. On Oct. 25, 2007, in the middle of an ambush in the Korengal Valley, Giunta challenged a pair of Taliban fighters at point-blank range to rescue a wounded comrade who was being dragged away.

In contrast to the somber Medal of Honor ceremonies that came before it, the White House presentation to Giunta was an upbeat and often boisterous event, with members of his unit hooting and cheering at every opportunity.

But Giunta — whom Obama called “as humble as he is heroic” — described the honor as bittersweet. Two teammates were killed in the ambush, including Sgt. Joshua Brennan, the man he saved from abduction.

“I would give this back in a second to have those friends here with me now,” he said. “There are so many others that are the unsung heroes of this war who will never come back to a handshake, or a hug from their families. We have to take the time to remember them.”

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