S/SGT SALVATORE GIUNTA 
_________________
Medal of Honor 

MEDAL OF HONOR
AWARDEES

 

BARNES

BLANCHFIELD

ENGLISH

EUBANKS

GUINTA

JOEL

LOZADA

McCARTER

MICHAEL

MORRIS

OLIVE

PIERCE

RASCON

 

 

Name: S/SGT SALVATORE GIUNTA 
Rank and organization: Staff Sgt, U.S. Army, Company B, 2nd Battalion, 503d Airborne Infantry Regiment,  173d Airborne Brigade Combat Team
Place: Korengal Valley, Afghanistan
Date: 25 October, 2007
Entered service at: Iowa
Born:  
G.O. No.:
 
The Official Citation

On Oct. 25, 2007, Spc. Giunta’s platoon was conducting a movement to contact to interdict enemy forces on the Gatigal Spur, in order to provide over watch for 2nd and 3rd platoon’s exfil back to Combat Outpost Vimot, and the Korengal Outpost. While conducting their exfil from the platoon’s blocking position, Spc. Giunta’s platoon was ambushed by 10 to 15 enemy personnel who utilized an “L” shaped, near ambush that was within 10 meters of the platoon’s main body. The enemy fired 10 Rocket Propelled Grenades (RPGs) and three PKMs (machine guns) from the apex of the ambush and additional AK-47s from throughout the ambush line.

The enemy initiated the contact with an RPG and a burst of PKM (fire), which immediately hit and wounded two members of the lead team, Sgt. Brennan and Spc. Eckrode. Another RPG in the initial volley hit extremely close to Spc. Giunta’s position. While Staff Sgt. Gallardo moved back to his Bravo Team to get situation reports, Spc. Giunta provided covering fire by leading his team in suppressing enemy positions, assigning sectors of fire and commanding his M-203 gunner to engage close targets. While advancing toward Spc. Giunta’s team, Staff Sgt. Gallardo was struck in the helmet by an AK-47 round, which caused him to fall to the ground. Despite being under heavy fire by PKM, RPG, and small arms, Spc. Giunta immediately left his covered position in order to render aid to his squad leader. As he moved to provide assistance, Spc. Giunta was struck by two bullets; one of which impacted his chest area but was stopped by his Enhanced Small Arms Protective Insert (E-SAPI) plate, and one round which impacted the Shoulder-Launched Multipurpose Assault Weapon-D (SMAW-D) rocket he was carrying across his back. Without hesitation, Spc. Giunta recovered from the impacts and ensured his squad leader was not injured. He then began bounding his team forward in an attempt to maneuver on the enemy.

Spc. Giunta and his fire team were quickly pinned down by effective enemy machine gun and small arms fire from multiple positions at close range. Spc. Giunta, along with Pfc. Clary and Staff Sgt. Gallardo, quickly prepared fragmentation grenades and continued the assault by throwing two volleys of them at enemy positions that were approximately 15 meters to their west. They then assaulted forward through those positions, secured Spc. Eckrode, and began treating his wounds. Realizing that Sgt. Brennan was missing, Pfc. Clary and Spc. Giunta continued to push forward along the enemy’s ex-filtration route, despite taking small arms fire from enemy personnel who were attempting to cover their withdrawal. Moving in the lead and rapidly closing with the enemy, despite receiving effective fire, Spc. Giunta overtook two enemy combatants attempting to drag off Sgt. Brennan, who had been incapacitated by his wounds. Spc. Giunta engaged one enemy combatant at close range and killed him, which cause the other enemy combatant to drop Sgt. Brennan and flee. Spc. Giunta then began immediate first aid on Sgt. Brennan, and also helped his squad leader to adjust security, further consolidate casualties, and prepare for Medical Evacuation operations.

Spc. Giunta’s selfless actions and personal courage were the decisive factors in changing the tide of the battle, ensuring that Sgt. Brennan was not captured by the enemy, and preventing the lead fire team from being destroyed by the enemy’s near ambush. Despite bullets impacting on and around himself, Spc. Giunta fearlessly advanced on the enemy and provided aid to his fallen comrades. His actions saved the lives of multiple paratroopers and changed the course of the battle in his platoon’s favor.

For exceptionally valorous actions during Operation Enduring Freedom VIII while assigned as a rifle team leader in Battle Company, 2nd Battalion (Airborne), 503rd Infantry. Spc. Giunta’s unwavering courage, aggressiveness, selfless service, and leadership while under extreme enemy fire were decisive in his platoon achieving fire superiority, defeating an enemy near ambush, and preventing the capture of a fellow paratrooper by the enemy. His actions reflect great credit upon himself, the Rock Battalion, the Bayonet Brigade Combat Team, Combined Joint Task Force-82, and the United States Army.

 

 

   

 

Further Reading 1:

 Article by Rick Scavetta, U.S. Army: 

 

 

 

 

The first platoon of Company B – known to 173rd paratroopers as “Battle Company” – were heading back to their base camp in Afghanistan’s Korengal Valley following a long day watching over fellow paratroopers in an Afghan village. It was the final day of Operation Rock Avalanche. Throughout the day, enemy radio intercepts spoke of an impending attack.

Evening was approaching as Giunta’s platoon stretched in to a snaking file down the spur to the Korengal outpost. Roughly 30 paces separated each paratrooper as they moved out. 

Sgt. Joshua Brennan, a 22-year-old team leader from Ontario, Ore., on his second tour in Afghanistan, was up front.  Behind Brennan, manning an M249 squad automatic weapon, was Spc. Frank Eckrode then squad leader, Staff Sgt. Erick Gallardo, 24, Chula Vista,  Calif.,

AH-64 Apache helicopters chopped the moonlit evening above as the platoon made their way down goat trails.

Giunta, who carried an M-4 assault rifle was just behind with his team. Pfc. Kaleb Casey carried his M249 squad automatic weapon, followed by Pfc. Garrett Clary with an M203, a 5.56 mm rifle combined with a 40 millimeter grenade launcher.

Along their path, more than a dozen enemy fighters waited, readying their Russian-style rocket propelled grenades, PKM 7.62 mm heavy machine guns, and Kalishnikov rifles. They had set up an L-shape, with an RPG and PKM at the apex of the formation. As Brennan walked just 30 feet from their over watch position, the enemy open fired.

An enemy RPG exploded, followed by a burst of machine gun fire. Brennan fell to the ground. Machine guns fired at the platoon’s flank. Eckrode was hit. He dropped to the ground, returned fire and tried to find cover.

Gallardo tried to run forward, but was met with RPG explosions and sustained machine gun fire. He returned fire and started back to Giunta’s position, falling into a ditch as an AK-47 round struck his helmet. Giunta jumped up, exposing himself to deadly fire, to assist his squad leader.

Giunta ran just a few steps when two enemy AK-47 rounds struck his body. The first shot hit the body armor on Giunta’s chest, the second hit over his left shoulder, striking a disposable rocket launcher strapped to his rucksack.  But Giunta kept going, reaching Gallardo and dragging him back to where Giunta’s fire team had begun fighting back.

Gallardo got Giunta’s team online and the four paratroopers began bounding through withering enemy fire to rescue Eckrode and Brennan. Dropping for cover, they prepared fragmentation grenades to throw at the enemy to cover their next move. Casey continued to fire his machine gun at enemy muzzle flashes, less than a half city block away. Gallardo counted to three and the team hurled grenades toward enemy positions. Once they heard the explosions, they moved closer to their wounded comrades.

Eckrode called out. He was wounded, but still trying to fight. Gallardo started first aid on Eckrode while Casey, who found a bullet hole in his uniform, scanned for enemy targets.

Giunta and Clary kept running toward where Brennan fell, only to find two enemy fighters carrying a severely-wounded Brennan away. While still running, Giunta fired his assault rifle, causing them to drop Brennan and flee. Giunta emptied the rest of his magazine, killing one enemy. Giunta knelt down to help Brennan as Clary ran past, firing 40-milimeter rounds toward the retreating enemy.

Giunta saw Brennan’s injuries were severe and required more than he could offer there on the battlefield. He removed Brennan’s gear and began treating his buddy, while calling back to Gallardo for help. Brennan was trying to talk. Giunta reassured his friend as he tended to Brennan’s wounds.

Other paratroopers from the platoon were also wounded. Spc. Hugo Mendoza, was killed. Brennan, who was hoisted into a helicopter, later succumbed to his wounds.

by Rick Scavetta, U.S. Army: 

 

   

Further Reading 2:

American Forces Press Service

Medal of Honor Designee Praises Fellow Servicemembers

 

WASHINGTON, Sept. 15, 2010 – A soldier designated to receive the Medal of Honor downplayed the notion that he is a hero today, insisting that his fellow servicemembers also deserve to be described that way.

“If I’m a hero, every man that stands around me, every woman in the military, everyone who goes into the unknown is a hero,” Army Staff Sgt. Salvatore Giunta said. “So if you think that that’s a hero, … you include everyone with me.”

He and his wife, Jenny, both Iowa natives, spoke from Vicenza, Italy, to Pentagon reporters during a video news conference.

Giunta, 25, learned during a Sept. 9 phone call from President Barack Obama that he will become the first living servicemember to receive the Medal of Honor for actions during the Iraq and Afghanistan wars.

Then a 22-year-old specialist serving as a rifle team leader with the 173rd Airborne Brigade Combat Team’s Company B, 2nd Battalion, 503rd Infantry Regiment, Giunta earned the nation’s highest military honor for his heroism the night of Oct. 25, 2007, when his squad encountered an insurgent ambush in Afghanistan’s Korengal Valley.

Giunta, who has been assigned to the same company for his entire military career, said his platoon was in an overwatch position that day, which had started “like any other day in Afghanistan.” The soldiers had struck their equipment and were moving out to return to their outpost as night began to fall.

“[We] moved down the trail that we were by, that we sat at all day, probably 50 meters, maybe 100 meters, and that’s when we were engaged in the L-shaped ambush,” he said.

According to reports, when the insurgent ambush split Giunta's squad into two groups, he exposed himself to enemy fire to pull a squad mate back to cover. Later, while firing on the enemy and attempting to link up with the rest of his squad, Giunta said he saw two insurgents carrying away a fellow soldier, Sgt. Joshua C. Brennan.

Giunta recovered his fellow soldier, shooting and killing one enemy fighter and wounding, then driving off, another. He then provided medical aid to his wounded comrade while the rest of his squad caught up and provided security. Brennan, 22, from McFarland, Wis., died the next day during surgery. A medic, Spc. Hugh Mendoza, 29, of Glendale, Ariz., also died.

Giunta said his intent during the ambush wasn’t to be a hero.

“I was out of grenades … and I had the forward momentum going,” he said. “I didn’t run up to do anything heroic or to save Brennan. Brennan, in my mind, wasn’t in trouble. I was just going to go up and I’m going to find Brennan, and we’re going to shoot together, because it’s better to shoot with a buddy than to be shooting alone.”

Giunta said he didn’t do more that night than any other soldier would have done in his place.

“This is what I’ve chosen to do with my life, … and everyone else I’m with is in the same boat,” he said. “All professionals, all conducting themselves as professionals, so there wasn’t a whole lot of thinking that any of us needed to do. … Everyone just kind of played their part, followed their leaders, and conducted themselves how they were trained.”

For most of the three years since Korengal Valley, Giunta has been reluctant to discuss events he clearly remembers with pain.

Today, facing cameras and speaking with reporters, he called the honor bitter-sweet.

“It’s such a huge, huge honor, and right now the 173rd is deployed. And they are doing the same thing they did, everything that’s asked of them in Afghanistan, all over again. That’s where a lot of my friends are right now. For me to fully accept this, I have to have everyone who’s been by me every time I needed them, and that’s really my brothers in arms.

“Some of them are out of the Army now, and some of them are in Afghanistan now … there are a lot of [other] people I’d just love to share this moment with, and I’m just not going to have the opportunity, because they’re no longer with us. They gave everything for their country,” he said.

Giunta’s parents, Steve and Rose Giunta, spoke to reporters about their son during a Sept. 11 news conference from Cedar Rapids, Iowa. Rose recounted the day she spoke with her son on the phone after the ambush occurred.

“I said, ‘Can you tell me what has happened?’ And he said ‘I can’t, Mom, I’m not ready to.’ I was crying, looking out the window, [trying to] talk about something beyond the questions that are going through my head,” she said. “We stayed on the phone for probably 20 minutes, and then he had to go. But it was very difficult, and I didn’t learn anything that day -- just that two men had died, and everyone had gotten hit.”

Jenny, 26, works at the post youth center, teaches yoga and takes online classes to prepare for medical studies. She said she didn’t know about the Korengal Valley incident until the following day, but remembers the call from the president a week ago.

“It was intense. It was exciting,” she said. “When the call came through I was really, really proud. I always say I’m proud to be with him, I’m proud to be his wife, and I’m proud of what he went through.”

Giunta is serving as part of the unit’s rear detachment while the brigade is again deployed to Afghanistan. His former squad leader, Staff Sgt. Erick Gallardo, who was with him the night of the ambush, called him from Afghanistan after the Medal of Honor award was announced, Guinta said.

“He just told me that he’s there for me, and he’s proud of me, and he’s happy for me, and this means a lot to the guys,” Giunta said. “And honestly, hearing him say that to me, someone I look up to telling me this, it means a lot to me -- especially that he can say that from the guys, too, that I think are the heroes right now.

“They’re out there fighting the enemies of the United States while I’m just sitting here,” he added.

Six previous medals of honor have been awarded during the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. They were awarded posthumously to one Marine Corps, two Navy and three Army servicemembers. The president is scheduled to present the seventh posthumous award to the family of Army Staff Sgt. Robert Miller in an Oct. 6 ceremony Oct. 6.

 

By Karen Parrish
American Forces Press Service

   

 

 

   

Further Reading 3:

From The New York Times

Rare Honor for a Living Service Member

Brendan Smialowski for The New York Times

Staff Sgt. Salvatore A. Giunta received the Medal of Honor from President Obama on Tuesday.

WASHINGTON — In an emotional ceremony, President Obama on Tuesday awarded the Medal of Honor to an Army staff sergeant who placed himself in the line of fire in Afghanistan to try to save his squad mates and to protect and comfort a dying American soldier.

The young staff sergeant, Salvatore A. Giunta, now 25, of Hiawatha, Iowa, was an Army specialist when he took part in the firefight in eastern Afghanistan three years ago. He is the first living service member to receive the Medal of Honor, the military’s most prestigious award, for action in any war since Vietnam.

Sergeant Giunta and the other soldiers of Company B, Second Battalion (Airborne), 503rd Infantry Regiment, were part of a campaign to provide food, winter clothing and medical care to Afghans in remote villages. They were ambushed in the Korengal Valley in a coordinated attack from three sides.

In a packed ceremony in the East Room before Sergeant Giunta’s family, squad mates and the parents of two soldiers who were killed in the ambush, Mr. Obama recounted the events on the night of Oct. 25, 2007.

“The moon was full; the light it cast was enough to travel by without using their night-vision goggles,” Mr. Obama said, with Sergeant Giunta standing at his side, looking straight ahead. “They hadn’t traveled a quarter-mile before the silence was shattered. It was an ambush so close that the cracks of the guns and the whizzes of the bullets were simultaneous.”

The two lead squad men went down. So did a third who was struck in the helmet. Sergeant Giunta charged into the wall of bullets to pull him to safety, Mr. Obama said. Sergeant Giunta was hit twice, but was protected by his body armor.

The sergeant could see the other two wounded Americans, Mr. Obama recounted.

By now, the East Room was so silent you could hear a rustle from across the room. One Army officer took out a handkerchief and wiped his eyes.

Sergeant Giunta looked down as the president described how he and his squad mates threw grenades, which they used as cover to run toward the wounded soldiers. All this, they did under constant fire, Mr. Obama said. Finally, they reached one of the men. As other soldiers tended to him, Sergeant Giunta sprinted ahead.

“He crested a hill alone with no cover but the dust kicked up by the storm of bullets still biting into the ground,” Mr. Obama said.

And there Sergeant Giunta saw “a chilling sight” — the silhouettes of two insurgents carrying away the other wounded American — his friend, Sgt. Joshua C. Brennan. Sergeant Giunta leaped forward, and fatally shot one insurgent while wounding the other. Then he rushed to his friend. He dragged him to cover, and stayed with him, trying to stop the bleeding, for 30 minutes, until help arrived.

Sergeant Brennan died later of his wounds. So did Specialist Hugo V. Mendoza, the platoon medic. Five others were wounded.

Speaking to reporters after receiving the award, Sergeant Giunta said the honor was “bittersweet.”

“I lost two dear friends of mine,” he said. “I would give this back in a second to have my friends with me right now.”

The outposts in the Korengal Valley were disbanded this spring after months of patrols that cost the American military dearly. Forces were moved to provide security to larger population centers.

 

 

   

 

 

   

Further Reading 4:

American Forces Press Service

 

WASHINGTON, Sept. 10, 2010 – The Medal of Honor will be awarded for the first time to a living veteran of the wars in Iraq or Afghanistan, White House officials announced today in a written statement.

Army Staff Sgt. Salvatore Giunta received a phone call from President Barack Obama yesterday, thanking him for his service. Obama informed the infantryman that he would receive the nation’s highest award for his service and extraordinary bravery in battle, the statement said.

The event occurred Oct. 25, 2007, in eastern Afghanistan’s Korengal Valley. Giunta was a specialist at the time and rifle team leader. He served in Company B, 2nd Battalion, 503rd Airborne Infantry Regiment, 173rd Airborne Brigade Combat Team, based out of Vicenza, Italy.

Giunta overcame being separated from his unit, evaded potential enemy captors and risked his life to rescue two fellow soldiers. His unit was divided during the gun battle. One fellow soldier was exposed to enemy fire when Giunta left his cover to pull the soldier to safety.

The enemy continued to engage Giunta and the soldier as they worked to link up with their squad. During the movement, Giunta noticed two insurgents carrying the second soldier, trying to take him captive.

Giunta immediately engaged the combatants, killing one and wounding another. He provided medical aid to the soldier while others provided security. The soldier eventually died of his wounds, but Giunta’s actions prevented him from staying in enemy hands.

Giunta, 25, is a native of Iowa, and enlisted in the Army in November 2003. He deployed twice to Afghanistan, and currently is stationed in Vicenza.

The Medal of Honor is the highest U.S. military decoration. Six servicemembers have received the Medal of Honor – all posthumously – since the global war on terror began following the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks on the United States.

On Oct. 6, 2010, Army Staff Sgt. Robert J. Miller, who was 24 years old when he died, will become the seventh servicemember serving in the global war on terror to receive the Medal of Honor posthumously. Miller will receive the award for his heroic actions in Barikowt, Afghanistan, on Jan. 25, 2008.

Giunta will become the eighth Medal of Honor recipient for actions in operations Iraqi Freedom and Enduring Freedom, and the only Iraq and Afghanistan veteran to receive the award while alive. The White House statement did not say when Giunta will receive his medal.

WASHINGTON, Sept. 10, 2010 – The Medal of Honor will be awarded for the first time to a living veteran of the wars in Iraq or Afghanistan, White House officials announced today in a written statement.

Army Staff Sgt. Salvatore Giunta received a phone call from President Barack Obama yesterday, thanking him for his service. Obama informed the infantryman that he would receive the nation’s highest award for his service and extraordinary bravery in battle, the statement said.

The event occurred Oct. 25, 2007, in eastern Afghanistan’s Korengal Valley. Giunta was a specialist at the time and rifle team leader. He served in Company B, 2nd Battalion, 503rd Airborne Infantry Regiment, 173rd Airborne Brigade Combat Team, based out of Vicenza, Italy.

Giunta overcame being separated from his unit, evaded potential enemy captors and risked his life to rescue two fellow soldiers. His unit was divided during the gun battle. One fellow soldier was exposed to enemy fire when Giunta left his cover to pull the soldier to safety.

The enemy continued to engage Giunta and the soldier as they worked to link up with their squad. During the movement, Giunta noticed two insurgents carrying the second soldier, trying to take him captive.

Giunta immediately engaged the combatants, killing one and wounding another. He provided medical aid to the soldier while others provided security. The soldier eventually died of his wounds, but Giunta’s actions prevented him from staying in enemy hands.

Giunta, 25, is a native of Iowa, and enlisted in the Army in November 2003. He deployed twice to Afghanistan, and currently is stationed in Vicenza.

The Medal of Honor is the highest U.S. military decoration. Six servicemembers have received the Medal of Honor – all posthumously – since the global war on terror began following the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks on the United States.

On Oct. 6, 2010, Army Staff Sgt. Robert J. Miller, who was 24 years old when he died, will become the seventh servicemember serving in the global war on terror to receive the Medal of Honor posthumously. Miller will receive the award for his heroic actions in Barikowt, Afghanistan, on Jan. 25, 2008.

Giunta will become the eighth Medal of Honor recipient for actions in operations Iraqi Freedom and Enduring Freedom, and the only Iraq and Afghanistan veteran to receive the award while alive. The White House statement did not say when Giunta will receive his medal.

 

By Army Sgt. 1st Class Michael J. Carden
American Forces Press Service

   

 

 

   

Further Reading 5:

From The New York Times

 

In One Moment in Afghanistan, Heroism and Heartbreak

Lynsey Addario/VII

EVE OF BATTLE Sgt. Salvatore Giunta, center, before the fight in which Sgt. Joshua Brennan, far left, and Spec. Hugo Mendoza, far right, would die.

Three years and three weeks ago. Dusk was falling fast on the Korengal Valley. We were crouched on a shrub-laden plateau some 8,000 feet up in the mountains. The soldiers were exhausted and cold. We’d been sleeping in ditches for five nights. Insurgents were everywhere.

We could hear those insurgents on the radios saying things like: “They are all the way on the end at the top sitting there.” Pfc. Michael Cunningham, a deadpan Texan, said, “That is so us.”

Actually, it was much of Battle Company of the 173d Airborne Brigade, which was spread across the mountains — First Platoon around Honcho Hill, watching over Second Platoon in a village below called Landigal. And the Taliban were itching to hit us again.

None of this had been part of the plan for Rock Avalanche, Battle Company’s six-day mission to tame the valley before the onset of winter. But then again, that is what war is, the mocking of plans. The reaction in those moments of mockery is why we have Medals of Honor. But no one knew that Rock Avalanche would be one of the defining events in the Afghan war. That Honcho Hill would be Afghanistan’s Hamburger Hill.

Two days earlier, the Taliban had ambushed Battle Company in the forests and spurs of the Abas Ghar ridge. At stunningly close range, they had shot and killed Sgt. Larry Rougle, one of Battle Company’s best, toughest and coolest. They had wounded Sgt. Kevin Rice and Spec. Carl Vandenberge, two of Battle Company’s biggest. And they had stolen night vision goggles and machine guns. That’s why, on this night, Dan Kearney, the 27-year-old captain, had sent Second Platoon into Landigal — to demand their stuff back from the villagers, who played dumb.

For a day or two everyone had been in shock and mourning and out for blood. Now the fear was palpable. “If they can get Rougle, they can get any of us,” said Sgt. John Clinard.

I was with Captain Kearney and his command group on the plateau and soon we were helicoptered, in five minutes, to the Korengal Outpost. But First and Second Platoons had to trek back through ambush country, under a full moon.

As our Black Hawk left us off, rockets and machine-gun fire echoed off the valley’s walls. First Platoon on Honcho Hill was getting hit. I heard Lt. Brad Winn on the radio, shouting. His boys needed help. Five were down. Captain Kearney radioed commands to his other platoon. “Drop everything, cross that river, help your brothers.”

Snippets of information hung in the air. “Urgent wounded Josh Brennan.” “Six exit wounds.” “Needs a ventilator.” Kearney cursed and threw down his radio. “Eckrode leg. Valles leg.” “Who is the K.I.A?” “I think it’s Mendoza.” Spec. Hugo Mendoza was a medic from El Paso and Arizona, Sgt. Joshua Brennan a quiet Gary Cooper type from Wisconsin. “We are in contact again. Enemy K.I.A. in custody. Over.”

Kearney radioed back: “Keep bringing it on them,” and “Slasher is coming.” Someone radioed they could see a man making off with Brennan’s rucksack and his M4. In came Slasher, the AC-130, and the rucksack guy was dead. Captain Kearney took a breath and told First Sgt. La Monta Caldwell: “Brennan’s probably going to die. I would go and hold his hand and pray with him.” Which is what Caldwell did.

As airpower took over, thunder and lightning lit up the sky while the two platoons forded the river and climbed up to the Korengal Outpost.

They were drenched. Their eyes bulging and bloodshot. Their faces stained black. Nearly everyone in First Platoon had a bullet hole in his vest or helmet. Sgt. Chris Shelton dropped the belongings of an insurgent named Mohammad Tali. Sgt. Salvatore Giunta had shot and killed him as he was dragging off Brennan. “His face looked like a Halloween mask,” Shelton said. “No brains. I got them all over my hands. I have to wash them.” The only reason they didn’t take more casualties, he said, was Giunta and Gallardo.

Hunched over, elbow on his knee, head resting on his palm, Captain Kearney began calling the families of the dead.

The next morning I found Sgt. Erick Gallardo outside and Sergeant Giunta on guard duty. At just 23, Gallardo was the eldest in his squad and felt like the father. “Best thing is for us to be a family, take care of each other,” he said. “It’s five months in and we have five K.I.A.’s, couple platoons worth of Purple Hearts. Not one person in my squad got out without a bullet round. It doesn’t feel good at all.”

And they told what had happened. The platoon had waited until dark when the Apaches were overhead before heading out, single file, Brennan in the lead. (Brennan was always in the lead, without protest. Even after he’d been shot in the calf two months earlier when their patrol was ambushed. He’d do anything for his friends.) Not 300 meters on, they fell into the ambush. Gallardo remembered running forward to get control of the fight, R.P.G.’s landing in front of him, bullets hitting the dirt, and then one finally whacked him.

“When I fell, Giunta thought I was hit. He tried to pull me back to cover and got shot and hit in the chest.” But body armor saved both of them. Gallardo got Giunta and two other men and said, “On 3 we are going to get Brennan and Eckrode.” They threw grenades, dropped down, prepped the second round, and Gallardo shouted, “Throw them as far as you can.” They found Spec. Franklin Eckrode wounded but trying to fix his weapon. Gallardo began dressing his leg and suddenly heard Giunta yelling back: “Sergeant G, they are taking Brennan away.”

Giunta told me: “I just kept on running up the trail,” he said. “It was cloudy. I was running and I saw dudes plural and I was, like, ‘Who the hell is up here?’ I saw two of them trying to carry Brennan away and I started shooting at them. They dropped him and when I looked at him, he was still conscious. He was missing the bottom part of his jaw. He was breathing and moving and I pulled him back in the ditch.”

His voice broke. Everyone in the small observation post was failing to hold back tears. “He was coming to and asking for morphine and I said, ‘You’ll get out and tell your hero stories and come visit us in Florence,’ and he was, like, ‘I will, I will.’ ” Out of the sky dropped a hoist and a medic and they gave him a trachea tube and Giunta kept squeezing the bag to keep him breathing. There was silence and fidgeting.

And then Giunta said, “All my feelings are with my friends and they are getting smaller. I have sweat more, cried more, bled more in this country than my own.

“These people,” he said, meaning the Afghans, “won’t leave this valley. They have been here far before I could fathom an Afghanistan.”

“I ran to the front because that is where he was,” Giunta said, talking of Brennan. “I didn’t try to be a hero and save everyone.”

On Tuesday Giunta will become the first living soldier to receive the Medal of Honor since Vietnam. He has said that if he is a hero then everyone who goes into the unknown is a hero. He has said he was angry to have a medal around his neck at the price of Brennan’s and Mendoza’s lives. It took three years for the Pentagon to finalize the award. And it is puzzling to many soldiers and families why the military brass has been so sparing with this medal during the last decade of unceasing warfare.

As for the Korengal Valley, Giunta was right. The Korengalis would never leave or give up.

Last April, after three more years of killing and dying in that valley, the Americans decided to leave the place to the locals.

 

   

 

 

 

         

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So that the last man standing shall not stand alone.

 

 

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Last Updated: 29-03-11