Published: July 17, 2017

By Jim Lichtman
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In the early evening hours of October 25, 2007 in Afghanistan’s Korengal Valley, Army Staff Sargent Salvatore Giunta and seven troops were returning to camp when they were ambushed by Taliban fighters from all directions.

“There were more bullets in the air than stars in the sky,” Giunta said. “A wall of bullets at every one at the same time with one crack and then a million other cracks afterwards. They’re above you, in front of you, behind you, below you. They’re hitting in the dirt early. They’re going over your head. Just all over the place. They were close—as close as I’ve ever seen.”

What Sgt. Giunta did next was described by Pentagon officials:

“While under heavy enemy fire, Specialist Giunta immediately sprinted towards cover and engaged the enemy. Seeing that his squad leader had fallen and believing that he had been injured, Specialist Giunta exposed himself to withering enemy fire and raced towards his squad leader, helped him to cover, and administered medical aid. While administering first aid, enemy fire struck Specialist Giunta’s body armor and his secondary weapon. Without regard to the ongoing fire, Specialist Giunta engaged the enemy before prepping and throwing grenades, using the explosions for cover in order to conceal his position.

“Attempting to reach additional wounded fellow soldiers who were separated from the squad, Specialist Giunta and his team encountered a barrage of enemy fire that forced them to the ground. The team continued forward and upon reaching the wounded soldiers, Specialist Giunta realized that another soldier was still separated from the element. Specialist Giunta then advanced forward on his own initiative. As he crested the top of a hill, he observed two insurgents carrying away an American soldier. He immediately engaged the enemy, killing one and wounding the other. Upon reaching the wounded soldier, he began to provide medical aid, as his squad caught up and provided security.”

Facing nearly impossible odds, Sgt. Giunta survived and was awarded The Medal of Honor on November 16, 2010 by President Obama. However, he was not quite comfortable with all the attention.

As reported by Yahoo News (Nov. 16, 2010), “ ‘I’m not at peace with that at all,’ Giunta said. ‘And coming and talking about it and people wanting to shake my hand because of it, it hurts me, because it’s not what I want. And to be with so many people doing so much stuff and then to be singled out and put forward. I mean, everyone did something.’

“Asked to evaluate himself as a soldier, Giunta said, ‘I’m average. I’m mediocre,’ adding, ‘This is only one moment. I don’t think I did anything that anyone else I was with wouldn’t have done. I was in a position to do it. That was what needed to be done. So that’s what I did.’ ”

And now, that same self-sacrificing former Staff Sargent is demonstrating another selfless act.

As reported in the Stars and Stripes (July 7), “In a ceremony marking the 173rd Airborne Brigade’s new memorial to all the brigade’s soldiers who earned the military’s highest award, the former Subway sandwich maker [Giunta] unfastened the medal’s blue ribbon from his neck and handed it over to the brigade commander.

“ ‘It can’t be with me because it’s ours,’ said Giunta. In 2010, for his heroic actions during an ambush in Afghanistan, became the first living man to earn the medal since the Vietnam War.

“ “I want this to stay in Vicenza, Italy, with the 173rd, with the men and women who earn this every single day through their selflessness and sacrifice,’ he said.

“Giunta’s gift to the brigade came near the beginning of a casual, 45-minute event in which privates, children and civilians strolled with war heroes, sergeants major and a major general along a brick walkway on a balmy Italian evening. The walkway, stretching from the brigade headquarters to the gym, is lined with 18 memorials to men who, on what was frequently the worst and final day of their lives, displayed conspicuous gallantry and uncommon valor. …

“Brigade commander Col. Greg Anderson says the 173rd is the most decorated brigade in the Army. ‘I don’t say that to brag. I don’t say it as a point of pride,’ he said. ‘I say that to emphasize that the brigade has always received the difficult missions.’ …

“On Wednesday, he acknowledged a six-year struggle to come to terms with the honor. ‘I’m not here because I’m a great soldier. I’m here because I served with great soldiers,’ he said.”

Giunta’s wife, Jennifer, a registered nurse and mother of two, put it all in context.

“We have a regular life at home.”


  1. As Jim knows, both Jean and I served as surgeon and OR nurse at the 400 bed, jungle-based, surgical hospital, the great 24th Evac in 1968-69. It was our honor then and now to have been one of the prime recipients of wounded from the 173rd Airborne Brigade (“Sky Soldiers”), which distinguished itself greatly and suffered tremendously, “best known for its actions during the Vietnam War, The brigade (4,000 men/5 battalions) was the first major United States Army ground formation deployed in Vietnam, serving there from 1965 to 1971 and losing almost 1,800 soldiers killed in action. Noted for its roles in Operation Hump, the Tunnels at Cu Chi and Operation Junction City, the 173d is best remembered for the bloody Battle of Dak To, where it suffered heavy casualties in close hand to hand combat with North Vietnamese forces. Brigade members received over 7,800 decorations, including more than 6,000 Purple Hearts, 1,736 Silver Stars, 32 Distinguished Service Medals and 13 Medals of Honor.” Amazing.

    To really understand this war, a major book undertaking: “Enduring Vietnam” by former Dartmouth president, marine James Wright has just been published and in my mind, will stand for decades as THE authoritative truth behind the stories, told and never told before, like the legend of the 173rd Brigade.

    Thanks, Jim.

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