By Troy Phillips
FORT WORTH, Texas (December 28, 2011) — Salvatore Giunta was as unassuming a guest of honor as a college bowl game can have.
Giunta, in street clothes — a simple, tieless dress shirt covered in a sport coat — sat just right of the podium during Thursday’s Bell Helicopter Armed Forces Bowl Kickoff Luncheon. While other military guests of the bowl were obvious by their active-duty uniforms, Giunta made his way into the Omni Hotel Fort Worth ballroom to the dais virtually unnoticed.
A recipient of the Congressional Medal of Honor on Nov. 16, 2010, Giunta will be honored at halftime of Friday’s Armed Forces Bowl between Tulsa and BYU (11 a.m. kickoff, ESPN) and receive the bowl’s annual Great American Patriot Award.
“What’s incredible about him,” Bell CEO John Garrison said of Giunta, “is his humility.”
Giunta was humble in his roughly 2 ½ -minute guest speech on Thursday, calling the award “pretty cool for me.”
“It has nothing to do with me,” he said. “It has everything to do with the men and women out there defending this country. Out there, right now, someone is fighting for us make America a better place. They can’t be with us and receive this award. They’re out there giving the enemy of the United States the business.”
Giunta likely gave the shortest guest speech in the nine-year history of the luncheon, later calling his words — or lack thereof — “inconsequential.”
“I have a lot of words, but in a time like this…this is about something bigger. It’s about the men and women in uniform. I’m accepting this because I was the one they selected to accept it, but it has nothing to do with me. To say that as many times as possible is a good thing.”
Honorably discharged on June 13, 2011 from the U.S. Army, Giunta served two tours in Afghanistan with the 173rd Airborne’s 503rd Infantry Regiment, 2nd Battalion Battle Company and rose to the rank of staff sergeant.
On Oct. 25, 2007, then-Specialist Giunta was part of a team patrolling Korengal Valley, Afghanistan that came under heavy enemy fire. Giunta sprinted to engage the enemy and give medical aid to his fallen squad leader. Giunta’s body armor and some of his weaponry were struck, and he proceeded to launch grenades to conceal and cover his position.
He eventually led the team forward to reach more wounded U.S. soldiers. Despite being pinned down by heavy fire, Giunta and his team pressed on to reach the wounded. Giunta and others noticed one soldier still separated from the others.
Eventually reaching the top of a hill, he saw two insurgents carrying away the separated soldier. Giunta killed one insurgent and wounded the other. He provided medical aid, and his team eventually caught up.
Giunta’s “unwavering courage, selflessness and leadership under enemy fire” earned him one of just 10 Medals of Honor awarded since the war on terror began in 2001, and one of three living recipients.
On Thursday, Giunta, from Cedar Rapids, Iowa, made no mention during or after his speech about his experiences in Afghanistan that led to him being awarded the MOH.
“There are those of us who hope to do great things in life,” BYU coach Bronco Mendenhall said after listening to Giunta, “and those of us who have the courage to be called up to do them.”
Giunta turns 27 in January. Asked if he’s considered active duty again, he said, “I’m always interested in serving. I feel like I continue to serve, just in a very different way. I no longer use a gun and bullets.
“I try to use words, and remind people what makes America great. It’s people like you, like him, like her — it’s all of us that make America great, and we need to remember that we are the problem and the solution to all of our problems.”
Medal of Honor By the numbers
3,458: Medals of Honor awarded since the first earned by U.S. Army Private Jacob Parrott in 1863
85: Medal of Honor recipients currently living
55: Living recipients from the Vietnam War
14: Living recipients from World War II
13: Living recipients from the Korean War
3: Living recipients from Afghanistan/Iraq