A U.S. soldier who risked his life in Afghanistan in 2007 to save a wounded comrade from being captured by enemy forces will receive the Medal of Honor from President Obama.
Staff Sgt. Salvatore Giunta will be the first living person awarded the medal, the nation’s top military honor, since the Vietnam War. The medal is given for the highest valor in combat.
On October 2007, Giunta’s eight-man squad was moving along a wooded ridgeline in the Korangal Valley when at least a dozen Taliban fighters mounted an ambush that was coordinated from three sides at such close range that close air support could not be provided to Giunta’s unit. Sergeant Josh Brennan, who was walking point, suffered at least 6 gunshot wounds. Giunta, then a specialist, was the fourth soldier back and was shot in the chest but was saved by his ballistic vest. Another bullet destroyed a weapon slung over his back. Moving, firing and throwing hand grenades, Giunta advanced up the trail to assist Staff Sergeant Erick Gallardo and, later, Specialist Franklin Eckrode, whose M249 machine gun had jammed and who was badly wounded. Continuing up the trail, Giunta saw two Taliban fighters, one of whom was Mohammad Tali (considered a high-value target), dragging Brennan down the hillside and towards the forest. Giunta attacked the insurgents with his M4 carbine, killing Tali, and ran to Brennan to provide cover and comfort until relief arrived.
I ran through fire to see what was going on with him and maybe we could hide behind the same rock and shoot together … He was still conscious. He was breathing. He was asking for morphine. I said, “You’ll get out and tell your hero stories,” and he was like, “I will, I will.”
Brennan did not survive surgery. According to his father, Michael Brennan, “not only did [Giunta] save [my son] Josh … He really saved half of the platoon.”
On September 10, 2010, the White House announced that Giunta would receive the United States’ highest military decoration, the first awarded to a living recipient since the Vietnam War, and the fourth recipient from the War in Afghanistan.