Medal of Honor recipient felt 'angry' and 'lost'
October 7th, 2010
08:15 AM ET

Medal of Honor recipient felt 'angry' and 'lost'

Vicenza, Italy (CNN) - He's only 25 now, an Army paratrooper stationed at the headquarters of the 173rd Airborne at a sprawling base near Vicenza in northern Italy.

As the first living recipient of the Medal of Honor since the Vietnam War, Sal Giunta has had plenty of media attention heaped on him. But this staff sergeant is determined to make the medal, at least symbolically, belong to others.

"When I first heard that they were putting me in for the Medal of Honor, I felt lost, I felt kind of angry, I felt, I think, angry," he said in an exclusive interview. "Just because, you know, this is so big. This is, it came at such a price. It came at the price of a good buddy of mine, not just Brennan. But Mendoza. Mendoza died that night as well. And people want to put a medal around my neck."

Giunta is talking about one of his best Army friends, Sgt. Josh Brennan, whose life he tried to save during a vicious firefight in eastern Afghanistan's Korengal Valley in the fall of 2007. Giunta's squadron, with Brennan walking as "point" - or first man in the front - was trapped in a deadly ambush by Taliban fighters during a nighttime operation. The squadron's medic, Hugo Mendoza of El Paso, Texas, was caught with the rest of the group.

"People congratulate me on a good job when there's two people that have basically given their entire lives for this mission, for the Army, for the people of the United States of America," Giunta said. "And now, I'm gonna be the one they are gonna shake hands with and congratulate? It didn't seem real and at the same time, what did seem real was that this shouldn't happen."

Giunta, whose armor-plated vest took a bullet during the ambush, saw Taliban fighters dragging away Brennan. Army documents say he immediately began to fire at the two men dragging his buddy away, killing one and driving off the other. Giunta pulled the badly-wounded Brennan to protective cover and stood by him until medical help arrived. Brennan, whose father is a policeman in Madison, Wisconsin, died from his wounds the next day.

"It is a great thing," Giunta said, speaking of the Medal of Honor. "But it is a great thing that has come at a personal loss to myself and so many other families."

And that, he said, is what he wants Americans to know.

"Absolutely," he said. "And not it's just the soldiers out there doing it. It's their families. It's their parents. It's the Mike Brennans of this world. And Mendoza's parents, you know. His brothers and sisters. The families that we leave when we go do this."

"It's not just, we're gonna go fight, but we're gonna leave our families for a while and hope that they can be taken care of," the sergeant explained. "It's a sacrifice that everyone makes, and these two men on that day made the biggest sacrifice anyone can ever make. And it's not for a paycheck."

Giunta's Medal of Honor ceremony will take place in November at the White House. And while his friends Brennan and Mendoza can't be there with him, he knows who can be. And he wants as many of his squadron mates as possible at the presentation.

More about Giunta and his actions
More about the unique history of the Medal of Honor

soundoff (24 Responses)
  1. fatavoice

    when compare barefooted Taliban with American soldiers with all resources at their disposal and latest warfare technology then I see no justification in rewarding this soldier with this award just for dragging his comrade out of Taliban captivity in an encounter at Eastern Afghanistan. This can be an attempt to boost the morale of soldiers in Afghanistan and also American nation however this incident is sufficient to understand how this world super power is faced with the situation wherein just escape of Taliban is also worth this great medal. No doubt the soldier honored with this medal is a great for saying the truth in professional way and gave credit to those who have lost their lives not himself being alive however in general this incident indicate that a mosquito is proving stronger then the Dinosaur.

    December 5, 2010 at 3:55 am | Report abuse |
  2. Derek in PA

    There is a quote i read sometime ago from an unknown soldier from WWI I beleive. Forgive me for I cannot remember exactly as it went but it goes something like this. " Soldiers do not fight for a flag, country or any other abstraction, they fight for each other"

    November 18, 2010 at 9:06 am | Report abuse |
  3. Derek in PA

    As a Marine infantryman, I know what this Staff Sergeant went through. His actions speak for themselves, he was more concered in saving his comrades then worring about receiving a medal or the attention that comes with it. I salute you SSgt, wear your medal with pride for you wear it not only for yourself, but for everyone that has served and will serve. SEMPER FI!

    November 18, 2010 at 8:39 am | Report abuse |
  4. Shrike

    I salute you. I also whole heatedly agree with you that I would also give it up for the return of the life of my friends. Some self doubt, remorse, and feelings that you don't deserve it are normal. Please believe us all. YOU DO! So relax. Your life is now changed forever. Take a deep breath... shake it off,.... and enjoy the attention. Please.

    November 17, 2010 at 7:27 pm | Report abuse |
  5. lj

    Thank you! You and all military who are out there risking your lives for us! My son-in-law is over there right now .We know the pain and worry that goes with it...

    November 17, 2010 at 5:31 pm | Report abuse |
  6. LtCol USMC

    "Out of every hundred men who take the field ... but one is a warrior and he will bring you back". This Soldier embodies the true definition of military virtue. His humility in first talking about those who fell that day is just one more example of why he deserves this our most highly regarded decoration. Semper Fidelis Staff Sergeant, I'm honored to serve with you.

    November 17, 2010 at 4:26 pm | Report abuse |
  7. SFC(R) Kenneth C.Powell

    A true definitation of a HERO. Thank you Staff Sergeant for selfless actions.

    November 17, 2010 at 2:58 pm | Report abuse |
  8. Scott

    Many men who bear that medal do not consider themselves hero's. They do not consider themselves worthy to wear it. That is why a man like you should be the one who wears it. Every day you put that medal on you honor them and all those who have carried the same burden before you. Not for yourself...for your brothers. Carry that medal with pride, for them, if not yourself. Your humility and selfless actions make you a hero. Let us honor them by giving this honor to you.

    November 17, 2010 at 9:23 am | Report abuse |
  9. joe

    tjhei sguy rates a bronze, silver tops.. medal inflation is rampant..

    November 17, 2010 at 9:14 am | Report abuse |
    • Scott

      You rate as a moron Joe. I think you wear that medal perfectly.

      November 17, 2010 at 9:26 am | Report abuse |
    • Kendy

      Well said Scott!

      November 18, 2010 at 7:31 pm | Report abuse |
  10. DAVE G

    Staff Seargeant Guinta will forever be part of American military history and so will his brothers in arms that gave the ultimate sacrifice that day in a land far away from home. You might not think yourself a hero Staff Sergeant , but you became a hero the day you said the oath to defend our county. God bless .

    November 16, 2010 at 10:55 pm | Report abuse |
  11. Mr. Davidson

    We must realize that he is not the only one out there taking fire and dragging the wounded to safety but he stands in recognition of all the other troops doing exactly that. This conflict has generated a lot of bad press in the last several years but the soldiers are noted not to be concerned with the news even if it is difficult to escape on the homefront, if not impossible.

    November 16, 2010 at 9:22 pm | Report abuse |
  12. Amy

    As an Army wife of 12 years, I would like to thank you. I know you don't want to hear it. I know you feel you dont' deserve it. But my thank you goes out to you friends who lost their lives. You are the one who lived hear those thank you's, so please take them, take the metal, and the shaking of hands, if not for you, but for your buddies you lost. God Bless, God speed.

    November 16, 2010 at 3:11 pm | Report abuse |
  13. David

    The definitaiton of a HERO . . . I will never forget this name as I will never forget those that have given their life for their country. Oh, how I love this country and everything it stands for . . . GOD bless you.

    November 16, 2010 at 2:51 pm | Report abuse |
  14. ricksy

    If the world only had a million more Brennan's, Giunta's, and Mendoz's.........true heros! May God Bless them and their families. I hope they ALL find a way to heal....and I hope the Man in the Whitehouse is humbled!!!!!

    October 10, 2010 at 9:49 am | Report abuse |
    • tom

      Why do you hope the big man is humbled? Did he act in an inappropriate manner? From what I can see, it is you who should be humbled, by your own foolishness for posting such a shortsighted and idiotic comment.
      You should be ashamed.

      November 18, 2010 at 7:24 pm | Report abuse |
  15. Soldier 1980

    I know im not going to spell this right but here gos
    oo yea senior chief

    October 8, 2010 at 3:32 am | Report abuse |
  16. SCPO USN RETIRED

    Traumatized!? You bet! What you don't understand is this young man lived, slept, ate and did everything else with these men. He is angry because the men that were killed trusted him with their lives the same as he trusted them with his...but they died and he did everything in his power to prevent it. The Medal Of Honor requires that all military active and retired come to attention and salute the man/woman wearing it. That includes every politician even the President. It is the only way we can recognize unbelievable valor and bravery in combat...BUT it will never replace what he lost that day!

    SOLDIER! HOLD YOUR HEAD UP AND BE NOT ASHAMED! YOU HAVE ACTED WITH UNBELIEVABLE VALOR AND BRAVERY! KNOW THAT THIS OLD SENIOR CHIEF WILL STAND NEXT TO YOU AT ANY TIME IN ANY SITUATION!

    October 8, 2010 at 12:40 am | Report abuse |
    • StephanieInTexas

      @SCPO USN RETIRED– I like your response the best, and sir thank you also for what you've done in the past to ensure my freedom and that of my sons'.

      Mr. Giunta, if I could stand in front of you and salute you, I would do so. God Bless you and your family, sir. God bless you and your family, and please know that your bravery, your heartache and your blessing to us will live with us always. Simply – and not even close to adequately -thank you.

      November 16, 2010 at 2:27 pm | Report abuse |
    • MASA Mitchell, Christopher

      I just want to say thank you to YOU Senior Chief for helping pave the way for young sailors such as myself. Giving me something to strive for so that one day I can retire as an SCPO.

      November 17, 2010 at 5:07 pm | Report abuse |
  17. Wendy Las Vegas

    It seems it's all they have to offer you as a hero. God Bless You.

    October 7, 2010 at 5:30 pm | Report abuse |
    • D.Gilmore

      He is a true American hero!

      November 18, 2010 at 6:40 am | Report abuse |