A U.S. Army staff sergeant who stepped into the line of fire to help a pair of comrades on the Afghan battlefield embodies the principle of never leaving a fallen comrade behind, President Obama said Tuesday while awarding the Medal of Honor to Salvatore Giunta.
Obama called Giunta a solider who is "as humble as he is heroic," and a low-key guy who demonstrated the courage that made him an example of honor defined by his fellow comrades.
"Staff Sgt. Giunta, repeatedly and without hesitation, you charged forward through extreme enemy fire, and embodied the ethos that says 'I will never leave a fallen comrade," Obama said. "You may believe that you don't deserve this honor, but it was your fellow soldiers who recommended you for it. In fact, your commander specifically said in his recommendation that you lived up to the standards of the most decorated American soldier of World War II, Audie Murphy, who famously repelled an overwhelming enemy attack by himself for one simple reason, 'they were killing my friends.'"
Plus, Obama said, he really enjoyed meeting Giunta.
"Now, I'm going to go off-script here for a second, and say, I really like this guy," Obama said to laugher and applause. "You know, we all just get a sense of people and who they are, and when you meet Sal and you meet his family, you are just absolutely convinced that this is what America is all about, and it just makes you proud."
Praising the soldier's family, Obama also suggested Giunta was destined to be a soldier.
"It was his mother, after all, who apparently taught him as a young boy in small-town Iowa how to remove the screen from his bedroom window in case of fire. What she didn't know was that by teaching Sal how to jump from his bedroom and sneaking off in the dead of night, she was unleashing a future paratrooper who would one day fight in the rugged mountains of Afghanistan 7,000 miles away," Obama said.
Giunta is the first living service member from the Iraq or Afghanistan wars to be so honored. Seven others have received the award posthumously. It is the first time in 40 years a recipient of the medal has come to the White House to accept the award.
The Army says Giunta was a rifle team leader in eastern Afghanistan's Korengal Valley when his squad was split in two after an ambush by insurgents. While under fire, Giunta pulled a fellow soldier to cover and rescued another who was being dragged away by the enemy.
Giunta was hit twice during the onslaught, with one round hitting his body armor and another destroying his weapon.