Medal of Honor News Still Sinking in For Hiawatha Family

By Dave Franzman, Reporter

Steven and Rose Giunta, speak at Kirkwood College in Cedar Rapids on Saturday, September 11, 2010. Their son, U.S. Army Staff Sergeant Salvatore Giunta, was recently named a Medal of Honor recipient for his actions in Korengal Valley, Afghanistan in 2007. Giunta, is the first living recipient of the honor since the Vietnam War. (Becky Malewitz/ SourceMedia Group News)

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By Tracey McCullough

HIAWATHA, Iowa - A Hiawatha family is still coming to grips this weekend with the news their son is a Medal of Honor winner and now a national hero.

On Friday, President Barack Obama called Staff Sgt. Salvatore “Sal” Giunta with the news he would receive the nation’s highest military award for his actions in Afghanistan. Staff Sgt. Giunta, 25, and now stationed in Italy, exposed himself to enemy gunfire to try and save two fellow soldiers in danger of capture. The Iowa native will become the first living Medal of Honor recipient since the Vietnam war.

Rose Giunta, 52 and Steve Giunta, 51, met reporters on Saturday at Kirkwood Community College to give some reaction to the news. And the Hiawatha residents said it’s all still sinking in.

They told reporters their oldest son Sal was a bit of a handful growing up as a teenager in both Cedar Rapids and Hiawatha. He graduated from Kennedy High School in 2003 and joined the military that year.

Steve Giunta remembered a child with an independent streak—recalling an incident when a then eight-year-old Sal climbed out of a bedroom window and ran off at night. But Steve Giunta also said military service changed his son.

“He lived life kind of fast and he really found his niche when he got into the Army. In serving his country, he found an outlet for all his energy and turned it into something positive,” Giunta said.

The citation notes that Staff Sgt. Giunta distinguished himself in October of 2007 by charging and engaging enemy insurgents when they tried to capture two of his wounded comrades. Both soldiers later died from their wounds.

Mother Rose Giunta remembers a call days later in which she knew something bad had happened. “I said Sal, what happened? He said we lost Josh today—Josh was also one of his friends. And I said can you tell me what happened and he said I can’t I’m not ready to—just talk to me,” Rose Giunta said.

Both parents said they didn’t hear a lot of details about that ambush until later. And when their son finally told the story, he only told it once and asked them not to question him.

The Giuntas spoke with the Staff Sergeant after President Obama’s call on Friday. They said their son is humbled by the honor and still truly believes he did nothing any other soldier wouldn’t have done in similar circumstances.

Steve Giunta said “he was very reserved—thrust forward in this situation is something he doesn’t like.” His father added that the situation with the medal is “ unlike battle–then he moved forward and it’s just a contrast.”

The Giunta’s said Saturday they do not know when the White House ceremony will take place. Obviously, they will be there to share the pride of Iowa for a national hero.

A public affairs officer for the Iowa National Guard noted that Staff Sgt. Giunta will become the 109th Iowa to receive a Medal of Honor since the award’s inception during the Civil War. The last living recipient of the Medal of Honor, for service in Vietnam, was Colonel George “Bud” Day. Day was also a native Iowan.

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