At one o'clock today in the East Room of the White House, an Iowa-born soldier will receive the nation's highest decoration for valor in combat. In our nine-year war in Afghanistan and Iraq, this is only the eighth Medal of Honor. Even more rare, the man who has earned it is the first from this war to live to see the president place it around his neck.
The soldier is Army Staff Sgt. Salvatore Giunta. On Oct. 25, 2007, then-Specialist Giunta and his team were on a mountain ridge in Afghanistan's violent Korengal Valley when they were ambushed by the Taliban. He took a bullet stopped by a protective vest as he helped pull one soldier to safety.
Then he went forward to help the sergeant, Joshua Brennan, who had been walking point. Two Taliban were carrying Sgt. Brennan away. Spec. Giunta shot the Taliban and brought Sgt. Brennan back.
Here we are reminded that in war there are few storybook endings: Sgt. Brennan would soon die of his wounds.
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What kind of man is that? When we think of military heroism, we may think of Rambos decorated for great damage inflicted on the enemy. In fact, the opposite is true. Every Medal of Honor from these wars has been for an effort to save life. Even more telling, each specifically recognizes bravery that cannot be commanded.
Of the eight who have earned it, three—Army Pfc. Ross McGinniss, Navy Petty Officer Michael Monsoor, Marine Cpl. Jason Dunham—threw themselves on grenades to protect their comrades. Navy Lt. Michael Murphy knowingly exposed himself to enemy fire so he could call in help for his team.
Army Staff Sgt. Jared Monti died trying to rescue a fellow soldier. Army Staff Sgt. Robert Miller was killed while diverting gunfire from Taliban forces so his team could carry their commander to safety. Army Sgt. First Class Paul Ray Smith—the first from these wars to earn the Medal—took on an overwhelming Iraqi force from a machine gun atop a disabled armored personnel carrier, allowing the safe withdrawal of many wounded American soldiers.
On that ridge in Afghanistan, Salvatore Giunta could not save his sergeant. But he did deprive the enemy of its victory—and death of some of its sting. In that same "60 Minutes" segment, a fellow soldier (who earned a Silver Star in the same firefight) put it this way. "The last thing Brennan ever saw was us," says Sgt. Erick Gallardo. "You know, he saw us fighting for him. . . . We fought for him and he's home with his family now because of that." It's a soldier's gift. Because of Sgt. Giunta, the family of Josh Brennan know that when their loved one breathed his last, he did so knowing he was among friends willing to put their own lives at risk for him.
Medal of Honor
from today's WSJ: