Medal of Honor recipient Sal Giunta, former U.S. Army staff sergeant, spoke about his military experiences at Old Dominion University in Norfolk Nov. 14.
Giunta was the first living Service member to receive the nation’s highest military honor since the Vietnam War, and is currently one of only 13 recipients to receive the medal for actions in Iraq or Afghanistan.
Giunta was invited speak as part of ODU’s President’s Lecture Series, a program aimed to bring speakers to the university’s campus to share knowledge, experiences and accomplishments. Past speakers have included scientists, writers, educators, historians and other prominent figures in a variety of fields.
Giunta shared his story, from his enlistment to his Medal of Honor ceremony and memories spent with his brothers in arms.
“I am nobody special,” Giunta prefaced with his well-known humility. “I just did what every person in the military would do; what is in their job description.”
Giunta then described the events that earned him the Medal of Honor.
On Oct. 25, 2007, while conducting a patrol under the cover of darkness in Korengal Valley, Afghanistan, then-Spc. Giunta and his team were ambushed by an insurgent force.
“All of a sudden, we saw bullets everywhere,” said Giunta. “[Rocket propelled grenades] were flying over our heads. My team’s light machine gun looked like a dragon spitting fire.”
While under heavy fire, Giunta took cover and engaged the enemy.
After seeing his squad leader had fallen, Giunta exposed himself to enemy fire and ran toward the Soldier, dragged him to cover and administered medical aid.
“Things were moving so fast,” he continued. “I didn’t think. I just ran forward, grabbed the handle on the back of his vest and started to pull him back to cover.”
While tending to the Soldier’s injuries, Giunta’s chest plate was struck by enemy rounds. Without regard to his personal safety, he engaged the enemy before throwing grenades, using the explosions to conceal his position.
Soon after, while attempting to reach his fellow Soldiers, Giunta and his team encountered a barrage of enemy fire that forced them to the ground, but the team continued forward, continuing to use grenades to mask their movements. Upon reaching the squadmates, Giunta realized another Soldier was still separated from the element.
He then charged the enemy position and as he crested the top of a hill, saw two insurgents carrying the Soldier away.
Giunta engaged the insurgents, killing one and wounding the other. Upon reaching the wounded Soldier, Giunta provided medical aid as his squad caught up and provided security as the rest of the insurgents retreated.
For his service and courage in the face of danger, President Barack Obama presented the Medal of Honor to Giunta.
“I was just one piece of the puzzle,” said Giunta. “I only did what needed to be done. I was able to do it because of the men with me.”
Although Giunta said he initially felt uncomfortable in the limelight, he said his position allows him to tell the story of the Service members who paid the ultimate price for their country.
“I was given an opportunity ... to speak about [my fellow Service members’ sacrifices],” he said. That’s important because “the rest of the 1 percent are busy with the job they have to do.”