Heroes 2011

For Giunta, Medal of Honor is 'bittersweet'

Salvatore Giunta interview

On Oct. 25, 2007, Spc. Salvatore Giunta’s squad was ambushed by insurgents while on a mission in the Korengal Valley, where his unit had been engaged in constant combat with enemy fighters for months.

As his unit walked single file along the crest of ridge just before daybreak, hidden gunmen unleashed an L-shaped ambush on the men, sending them diving for cover.

Giunta recounted the scene in vivid detail in Sebastian Junger’s book “War,” saying the area was “just rows of tracers, RPGs, everything happening out of nowhere with no real idea of how it [expletive] happened.”

In the initial moments of the firefight, he ventured out into the uncovered battlefield, exposing himself to even more danger, to pull one comrade to safety.

Giunta was hit twice by bullets, but his protective gear saved him both times. He and two other soldiers regrouped as bullets rained down around them. They inched toward the enemy positions and starting lobbing grenades at them, trying to get the entire squad back together.

But they quickly realized that one man — Sgt. Joshua Brennan, one of Giunta’s closest friends — was missing.

Soldiers from the squad said Giunta threw his last grenade and sprinted across the open battlefield to where Brennan should have been, exposing himself to another barrage of enemy fire. When he got there, he saw two enemy fighters dragging his friend down a hill.

Without hesitation, Giunta ran after them. From just a few feet away he fired his M4 at the would-be-kidnappers, killing one insurgent and wounding the other. As the wounded man fled, Giunta grabbed his friend and hauled him back to the rest of the team.

He and the rest of the team provided medical aid to Brennan until a medevac could be brought in. Brennan was alive when the helicopter left, but he died before reaching base. Another teammate, Spc. Hugo Mendoza, also was killed in the firefight.

Giunta, now a staff sergeant, received his Medal of Honor for heroism in November. After the ceremony, he called the award a “bittersweet” honor.

“Because of this day, I lost two dear friends of mine,” he told reporters. “I would give this back in a second to have those friends here with me now.”

Twitter: @LeoShane

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