Medal of Honor winner shines spotlight on veterans
A decade ago, a teenaged Sal Giunta left his Cedar Rapids, Iowa, home and job at Subway restaurant for the rugged terrain of Afghanistan. He returned a decorated U.S. Army hero.
To mark Veterans Day, General Mills on Monday welcomed the now-retired U.S. Army staff sergeant and first living Medal of Honor recipient since the Vietnam War.
Grateful and humble, Giunta – who wore the Medal of Honor around his neck and was met with a standing ovation – is a man uncomfortable in the spotlight, but proud of being a U.S. military veteran.
Though he spoke about his military career and the importance of teamwork and perseverance, Giunta shined the spotlight directly on his fellow veterans whose selflessness and sacrifice have made the United States a great country.
“On this Veterans Day, I want to say to all veterans, ‘Thank you for your service,’ ” said Giunta, who retired from the military two years ago.
Ally of veterans
Now a husband, father and author living in Colorado, the 28-year-old Giunta was the main speaker at the event titled, “Uncommon Valor: The Importance of Teamwork, Sacrifice and Leadership.”
The 90-minute ceremony – sponsored by the General Mills Veterans Network – also featured U.S. Sen. Amy Klobuchar, a longtime ally of military causes.
Both Giunta and Klobuchar praised General Mills for our longtime support of U.S. military veterans. Two years ago, General Mills received the Employer Support of the Guard and Reserve award from the U.S. Department of Defense. In 2010, General Mills received the “Patriot Award” from the National Committee for Employer Support of the Guard. And last year, General Mills was named a “Top Military Friendly Employer.”
“General Mills has shown its true stripes in support of our veterans,” said Klobuchar.
“I think the world of General Mills, and of the stories I learned today,” added Giunta.
One of those stories involves General Mills employee Kathy Sims, who has spearheaded our efforts to honor 25 Marines killed in Afghanistan during the several month Battle of Sangin. Sims wants to produce images of every one of them on Wheaties boxes and send them to their families. So, far she’s created 12.
Heroics in Afghanistan
A self-described “regular” guy, Giunta said he was embarrassed when he learned that he had been chosen for the Medal of Honor in November 2010.
In his mind, he didn’t deserve the award, which Giunta said he would gladly return to bring back his two friends killed in in the October 2007 ambush and gun battle in Afghanistan. In his nearly eight years in the service, Giunta said he has seen 26 of his friends die. The Medal of Honor, he said, really represents them and “anyone else who helped make the country a better place.”
Here’s why Giunta received the award:
Under a full moon, Giunta and his 18-member squad were on a night mission in Afghanistan’s Korengel Valley when they were ambushed by Taliban insurgents in a mountainous region near the Pakistan border.
“In one second, our entire world exploded,” Giunta said.
Machine guns and rifles blazed away from both sides as orange (U.S.) and green (Taliban) tracer bullets lit up the sky like fireflies. The enemy was only 30 meters away.
Giunta was shot twice, but uninjured (one shell hit his flak jacket; the other the weapon he was carrying).
When Giunta surmised that his friend, Sgt. Joshua Brennan, was missing, he looked for him. He spotted two people –Taliban insurgents – carrying away the wounded Brennan. Giunta ran through heavy fire and killed one insurgent as the other ran away. He dragged Brennan to safety, and he and fellow soldiers repelled the ambush. Brennan later died, however.
“We were taught to have faith in one another,” said Giunta, who last year wrote the memoir “Living With Honor” about his life and experiences in the military.
Since Giunta received the Medal of Honor, five more living Afghanistan veterans have been bestowed with the decoration.