Nearly seven years after former President Obama honored the valiant actions of Salvatore Giunta during a Medal of Honor ceremony, the former U.S. Army solider stunned his 173rd Airbone Brigade Combat Team by doing the unthinkable: presenting the combat award to his fellow unit.
"I want this to stay here in Vicenza, Italy with the 173rd to the men and women that earn this every single day through their selflessness and sacrifice," Giunta said during a ceremony in Vicenza, Italy. "I am not here because I am a great soldier. I am here because I served with great soldiers."
The brigade's leadership--and the crowd--remained in awe of Giunta's actions. Sgt. Major Frank Velez asked Giunta if this was something he really wanted.
"The first thing that came to mind is like, 'Are you sure you want to do that?' And he said 'yes,'" Sgt. Major Frank Velez told CNN. "There was a few gasps in the crowd and it was folks just going wild. 'That is incredible. This just really happened.'"
Giunta's story transformed into Army legend, even in the 173rd brigade which is one of the most decorated units in history.
On October 25, 2007, Giunta and his team deployed on night patrol in the mountains of Eastern Afghanistan when they were ambushed an came under Taliban fire. Just then 22 years old, Giunta took fire to defend his cohorts, and best friends.
"Sal sprinted ahead, at every step meeting relentless enemy fire with his own. He crested a hill alone, with no cover but the dust kicked up by the storm of bullets still biting into the ground. There, he saw a chilling sight: the silhouettes of two insurgents carrying the other wounded American away -- who happened to be one of Sal's best friends. Sal never broke stride. He leapt forward. He took aim. He killed one of the insurgents and wounded the other, who ran off."
Giunta's intrepid leadership rescued Sgt. Joshua Brennan from the insurgents, though, he ultimately succumbed to his injuries.
In 2010, Giunta told CNN, "I'll think about it and it hurts. But to say it out loud makes it that much more real, and I feel like I've said enough. I know it's real but sometimes I can trick myself and not think about it for a while."
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