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Hiawatha Man To Be First Living Recipient of Medal of Honor Since Vietnam War

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HIAWATHA, Iowa - The White House announced Friday that a Hiawatha soldier will become the first living recipient of the Medal of Honor since the Vietnam War.

A release from Washington said Staff Sgt. Salvatore Giunta spoke with President Obama on Thursday and learned of the award.

Giunta,24, a Cedar Rapids Kennedy High School graduate who served two tours in Afghanistan, was nominated for the award for his role in preventing a wounded fellow soldier from being dragged away during a fire fight in the Korengal River Valley in northeast Afghanistan.

Giunta's father, Steve Giunta of Hiawatha, said he and his wife, Rose, are proud of their son but said Sal is "very reserved and quiet" when it comes to the award.

"He would like to not have the spotlight," Steve Giunta said. "If all of this would just go away I think that would be just fine by him."

"As he told me, this doesn't change the event," the elder Giunta said. "As he puts it, every soldier would have done it."

Giunta, 25, will receive the award in recognition of his efforts to save a comrade during a firefight in northeast Afghanistan in 2007.

According to New York Times Magazine, which chronicled the firefight in February 2008, Giunta's unit was ambushed by insurgents. After a bullet hit his armor chest plate, Giunta chased enemy soldiers who were dragging away a wounded comrade, Josh Brennan.

"I started shooting," he told the Times. "I emptied that magazine. They dropped Brennan." Brennan later died of his injuries.

Col. Greg Hapgood, spokesman for the Iowa Guard, said the Medal of Honor is the highest award for bravery available to any soldier.

"It's an award for selflessness, that tells you the caliber of this young man," he said of Giunta. "He not only excelled and was an example for other soldiers but for Iowa and the rest of the country, as well."

When the younger Giunta called home after the firefight, his family didn't know what he had done.

"I think the largest thing on our plate at that time was dealing with the loss," Steve Giunta said. "Two soldiers had died that day. Everything we heard was from Sal, and you're not going to hear from him how he was a hero. We heard of the loss, and we were trying to take care of our son in that."

"I am so proud to have our son, but there's also that bitter part that the battle brought the loss," he said.

Steve Giunta said his son went into the military after high school at age 19.

"We didn't have a clue he was to going do it," he said. "It came up one day. He was watching a commercial and he thought he would like some of that, to be in the military. I told him, 'You're an honorable man doing an honorable job for an honorable country.'"

The younger Giunta was on his second deployment when he tried to save Brennan. He now lives in Vicenza, Italy, with his wife, Jen. His brother and sister, Mario and Katie, live at home with his parents in Hiawatha.

Gov. Chet Culver and Congressman Dave Loebsack on Friday offered their congratulations to Giunta.

"Since its inception in 1862, 108 Iowans from 10 conflicts have received the Medal of Honor. All of Iowa joins me in congratulating Salvatore Giunta on joining this distinguished list as the state's 109th Medal of Honor recipient," Culver said. "It is appropriate that his bravery and service to this nation have been recognized in this way."

"I have had the distinct honor of meeting Staff Sergeant Giunta when I shared Thanksgiving dinner with him last year. His patriotism, honor, and sacrifice are deserving of our nation's highest honor,"Loebsack said. "The bravery and leadership that Giunta displayed in battle to save a fellow soldier and protect his platoon, and the humility he displays about his actions are characteristics of a true hero. I would like to congratulate Staff Sergeant Giunta on receiving this distinguished honor and thank him for his service to our country."

According to a July 1 Washington Post story, the Pentagon recommended the White House consider awarding the Medal of Honor to a living soldier for the first time since the Vietnam War. The Pentagon would not identify the soldier at the time to avoid influencing the White House review.

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