Giunta Meets with Culver, Hiawatha Welcomes Hero Home

Staff Sgt. Salvatore Giunta, of Hiawatha, Iowa, the first living Medal of Honor recipient from the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq, stands with Iowa Gov. Chet Culver, left, as he is honored during a public ceremony, Tuesday, Nov. 23, 2010, at the Statehouse in Des Moines, Iowa. (AP Photo/Charlie Neibergall)

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By Jason Kristufek

DES MOINES, Iowa (AP) - Staff Sgt. Salvatore Giunta got a hero's welcome Tuesday at the Iowa Rotunda, one week after receiving the Medal of Honor from President Barack Obama for his bravery in Afghanistan.

The Hiawatha native exposed himself to enemy fire to pull a soldier back to cover when his platoon came under attack in 2007. He also shot two insurgents who were trying to carry off another U.S. soldier.

Giunta said even after getting the military's highest honor, he was humbled by the recognition in Iowa.

"I've been a lot of places recently, and one place I've always held near and dear to my heart is home, and home to me is Iowa," Giunta said. "I tried as hard as I can, but I'm not that smart a guy, but everything I've done recently and in the past, all this stuff I can attribute to many of the people in this room."

In a speech, Giunta dedicated his award "to the veterans who went before us, the men and women who have made this country free and have kept it free."

Culver signed a proclamation declaring Tuesday be set aside in Giunta's honor, and then invited him into the governor's office for a receiving line.

."I would ask all Iowans to keep in their thoughts and prayer the brave men and women in uniform who are overseas," Culver said.

Culver called Giunta "a true inspiration to young people across this state and nation."

"He has set the very highest example for all of us for courage and bravery," Culver said. "On behalf of all Iowans, we thank you very much."

Giunta received his honor in a crowded ceremony in the Statehouse rotunda, surrounded by fellow veterans, tops state officials and his family. He singled out parents Steve and Rose for giving him the character to serve in the military and wife Jennifer for her support.

"The military has given me an outlet to preserve this nation and keep it free," said Giunta. "It means so much to me to see the veterans of the past and the vets today and the friendly faces of my family and my friends and my teachers."

Though Giunta becomes only the 54th Iowan to receive the Medal of Honor, he has demonstrated modesty. He reminded the crowd that "so many of them have given absolutely everything so we can possess the freedom we have who will never be able to come home and give their family a hug."

He was accepting the medal in the memory of those who made a greater sacrifice, Giunta said.

"This isn't mine, I'm just holding on to it for them," he said.

He said his combat experience left him philosophical.

"War is never a good thing and there will always be a price that has to be paid," he said. "The fact that we have men and women every single day in Afghanistan since 2001 and Iraq since 2003 who are willing to raise their hands and willingly go to combat is amazing."

Hiawatha is planning a big time celebration for Medal of Honor recipient Staff Sergeant Salvatore Guinta.

“We’re getting calls from everywhere and it’s exciting,” Mayor Tom Theis said .

It’s been a whirlwind for the city of Hiawatha shortly after one of its own was awarded the highest military honor. Now a parade’s in store for Sal Guinta.

“We’re doing everything we can to make him feel at home,” Theis said .

The parade route for Tuesday’s welcome home celebration is almost identical to the city’s normal parade route, along west Emmons street next to the Hiawatha City Hall and then heads west.

“We modified the route to add a bit of green space to accommodate the amount of people,” said Hiawatha Police Chief Dennis Marks.

More law enforcement agencies will be on hand to help handle the 500 to one thousand people expected to attend.

“We’re expecting and hoping for a lot of people to be in town,” Marks said .

And the honoree himself will surely make an appearance.

“And Sal will be coming in sometime in the afternoon after he’s done with the governor,” Theis said .to Iowa since receiving the nation's highest award for valor.

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