First Living Soldier Since Vietnam Awarded Military's Highest Honor

WASHINGTON, D.C. -- On Oct. 25, 2007, 22 year-old Army Spc. Salvatore Giunta raced head-on into an enemy ambush to save the lives of two American soldiers during a deadly fire fight in one of the most inhospitable regions of eastern Afghanistan.

Giunta saved the life of one soldier and prevented Sgt. Josh Brennan, who later died of his wounds, from being carried away by Taliban fighters.

Giunta, who has since been promoted to sergeant, got a call three years later from President Obama -- he was to be the first living soldier since the Vietnam War to receive the Medal of Honor.

Giunta says he doesn't feel like a hero. "No more than every single service member in the United States military today," he told Fox News.

But he'll be the first living recipient to receive the award from either Iraq or Afghanistan, and a hero's treatment is what he's likely to receive.

"Sgt. Giunta distinguished himself by acts of gallantry at the risk of his life above and beyond the call of duty," the White House, which has not yet announced the specifics for the ceremony, said in a written statement.

Brennan's father, Mike Brennan, told Fox News that if it wasn't for Giunta's actions, "we may never have gotten my son back."

Giunta, born in Cedar Rapids, Iowa, is now the eighth service member to receive the award since the start of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. All those before him received the award posthumously.

At the time of the firefight, Giunta was serving in the notoriously dangerous Korengal Valley in Company B, 2nd Battalion, 503rd Airborne Infantry Regiment, of the 173rd Airborne Brigade Combat Team, based out of Vicenza, Italy.

In an interview with Fox News, Giunta explained that he wasn't the only one in danger that day.

"Everyone was at risk," Giunta said. "There were bullets all over the place. There were RPG's (rocket propelled grenades) blowing up all over the place. You could see the muzzle flashes from bullets leaving the enemies guns that weren't too far away."

Giunta said it was hard to explain all that happened and even more difficult for him to talk about the images. But Maj. Dan Kearney, his commander at the time and the man who eventually recommended Giunta for the award, told Fox News in detail what he heard over the radio that day and what witnesses from the squad later explained.

"In the initial burst I think everybody in that first squad was shot, wounded, or at least startled," he said. "The volume of RPG's and machine gun fire initially was so great that it literally stalled out the element and shot every single individual in the flesh or (their) protective equipment. What Sgt. Giunta did at the time was regain his composure extremely quickly, assessed his soldiers and his team for any kind of casualties, and then began to render aid to individuals like his squad leader."

Shortly thereafter he noticed that Brennan, the team leader, was not there.

"Sgt. Junta basically took it upon himself to run through an ambush, later repatriate Sgt. Brennan, who was still alive at the time, and kill multiple enemies while dragging Sgt. Brennan back," Kearney said.

Ironically, Giunta never aspired to be a soldier or even thought about it before he heard an Army recruitment ad on the radio while he was mopping the floor at his local Subway sandwich shop.

"They start saying the Army recruiter is giving out free T-shirts. I'm a sucker for a free T-shirt I guess," Giunta joked.

Yet that very battle inspired others to enlist. Brennan's nephew signed up for the Army shortly after Josh was killed and is now serving under the same squad leader in Afghanistan. He arrived in Italy to deploy two years to the day after Brennan was killed.

The U.S. military has since pulled out of Korengal Valley, in 2007 considered the frontline of the war, as part of the new strategy to protect population centers and leave remote outposts.

Two other members of the Giunta's battalion have pending nominations for the Medal of Honor.