Medal of Honor recipient remains humble

January 2, 2011 12:40:46 PM PST
As the first living member of the U.S. military to receive the Medal of Honor since the Vietnam War, Staff Sergeant Salvatore Giunta finds himself the center of attention wherever he goes.

Three years ago, Staff Sgt. Giunta's squad was split in an ambush in Afghanistan's so-called 'Valley of Death.' Under fire, Staff Sgt. Giunta pulled one solider back to cover and then fought off two insurgents who had mortally wounded another soldier.

Since receiving the Congressional Medal of Honor, Staff Sgt. Giunta is surrounded by cameras, microphones and questions. Despite the attention, he remains a humble, approachable and self-deprecating young man.

"So much attention lately has been directed toward me. I want to say I'm not a very smart guy, didn't teach myself, I've been told when to follow and when to lead," said Staff Sgt. Giunta.

The truth is that the medal he now wears has dramatically changed the life of Staff Sergeant Sal Giunta of Hiawatha, Iowa. Wherever he goes, people want to shake his hand, say thank you, pose for pictures. He's a hero. A star. People give him gifts -- so many that one wonders what he'll do with them all -- no matter how heartfelt they may be.

He was cheered at Soldier Field Sunday, and on Wednesday he'll be cheered at the Blackhawks game. He was on the radio Monday afternoon and earlier spoke to fellow soldiers, veterans and Gold Star family members who've lost loved ones to war.

"It seems so strange for me to be the one being congratulated when your family has given so much. Absolutely everything," said Staff Sgt. Giunta.

Since receiving the Medal of Honor, Staff Sgt. Giunta has downplayed his heroics and said he's just an average soldier, seemingly not worthy of the medal. But it's clear he knows his mission.

"The thing of it is, he realizes he's part of something bigger than one person. That's admirable about the guy. Nobody's done it in 40 years. He's special. That's why we're here to see him," said Mark Maroon, Army recruiter.

Staff Sgt. Giunta poses for pictures with local soldiers and veterans, then shakes hands. He has other appearances after the meeting at the Illinois National Guard Armory in North Riverside.

"There will be stress, but he's a great young man, a great young man," said Barry Cicero, American Legion.

On Tuesday, Staff Sgt. Giunta will retell his story as a medal of historical record for the Pritzker Military Library. Next, he will speak to a crowd of 450 at the Union League Club.