Medal of Honor recipient says the recognition is bittersweet - KWWL - Eastern Iowa Breaking News, Weather, Closings

Medal of Honor recipient says the recognition is bittersweet

VICENZA, ITALY (KWWL) -- Staff Sergeant Salvatore Giunta of Hiawatha says if he is to be considered a hero, so should every person serving in the armed forces.

"If I'm a hero, then every man that stands around me, every woman in the military, everyone who goes into the unknown is a hero. So if you think that that's a hero, as long as you include everyone with me," Giunta said.

Giunta and his wife Jenny spoke with the Pentagon press via a satellite interview from their current post in Italy.

Giunta will be the first living service member to be awarded the Medal of Honor since the Vietnam War. The seven previous medals awarded to service members who served in Iraq and Afghanistan were given shortly after the soldiers died.

Giunta said receiving the honor is bittersweet.

"It's emotional and it's great. All of this is great. But it does bring back then a lot of memories of all the people that I would love to share this moment with and I'm just not going to have that opportunity because they're no longer with us. And they gave everything for their country. And in doing that we're not going to be able to enjoy this together," Giunta said.

One of those missing people is Giunta's friend, and a fellow soldier he tried to save, Joshua Brennan. Giunta keeps in touch with Brennan's father, Mike. Giunta says Mike Brennan has expressed gratitude for Giunta's efforts on the battlefield.

"That's kind of a hard one to stomach. Because that's still a loss. I'm glad that we could bring Josh back, but I wish it was under different circumstances," Giunta said.

Giunta will receive the Medal of Honor for risking his life to save Brennan and another soldier during an ambush in the Korengal Valley, Afghanistan in October 2007.

Giunta and his platoon were watching over another platoon as they entered a village and met with the elders there.

Giunta said they set up their weapons and equipment in a perimeter around the village in the pre-dawn hours, and for the most part, it was a quiet day, aside from some chatter they picked up that they enemy may be preparing for some type of attack.

Giunta said around nightfall, they were preparing to leave the location when they were ambushed.

Two men died in the attack, and most suffered serious injuries. Members of Giunta's unit and Army officials say the death toll would have been much higher if not for Giunta's bravery. Giunta was also shot in the chest during the attack, but was saved by his protective body armor.

Giunta, now 25, serves as a staff sergeant based in Italy with Battle Company of the 173rd Airborne Brigade. He is from Hiawatha and graduated from Kennedy High School in Cedar Rapids. Giunta's wife, Jenny, is from Dubuque.

Jenny said she was with Giunta when President Obama called to tell him about the award last week.

"It was intense, it was exciting. When the call came through I was really, really proud. I was proud to know Sal, proud to be with him, proud to be his wife, and proud of what he went through. It was emotional," Jenny said.

Throughout the interview, Giunta kept going back to his fellow soldiers as the ones deserving of recognition.

"In this job, I'm only mediocre. I'm average. This is a situation we were put into and by no means did I do anything that anyone else wouldn't have done in that situation," Giunta said. "Looking at it as a picture, I was just one brush stroke in that picture…What I didn't wasn't the first brush stroke, it wasn't the last brush stroke in the picture, and it wasn't the best, it was just another brush stroke that helped complete this picture."

Giunta wants to use this honor to show support and recognition for others serving in the armed forces.

"I hope that I can convey to the world how great the average soldier is…the American soldier has been everything that the American people have asked for. And it's important to remember that," Giunta said.

The Medal of Honor is the nation's highest military award, given in recognition of distinguished gallantry during hostile action. It is presented by the President of the United States in the name of Congress. The last Iowan to receive the Medal of Honor was Colonel George Day of Sioux City. He was honored in 1976 for his service in the Vietnam War.

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