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Medal of Honor Recipient: Comrades ‘Gave Every One of Their Tomorrows’

Army Staff Sgt. Salvatore A. Giunta became on Tuesday the first living American servicemember from the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq to be honored with the U.S. military’s highest decoration.

Hours before President Barack Obama was set to award him the Medal of Honor for putting himself in the line of fire in Afghanistan to save two fellow soldiers during a 2007 firefight, Giunta sat down with the NewsHour’s Ray Suarez to discuss the meaning of the honor to him and the memory of his fallen comrades. The full interview will air on Tuesday’s NewsHour broadcast.

Watch the full ceremony at the White House:

On Oct. 25, 2007, Giunta was serving as a rifle team leader in the Korengal Valley when an ambush by insurgents split his squad into two, according to the Army. Here’s the White House description of events:

> When an insurgent force ambush split Specialist Giunta’s squad into two groups, he exposed himself to enemy fire to pull a comrade back to cover. Later, while engaging the enemy and attempting to link up with the rest of his squad, Specialist Giunta noticed two insurgents carrying away a fellow soldier. He immediately engaged the enemy, killing one and wounding the other, and provided medical aid to his wounded comrade while the rest of his squad caught up and provided security. His courage and leadership while under extreme enemy fire were integral to his platoon’s ability defeat an enemy ambush and recover a fellow American paratrooper from enemy hands.

Giunta’s award is just the eighth Medal of Honor since the beginning of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. The other seven were awarded posthumously.

In the Korengal Valley in northeastern Afghanistan in 2007 and 2008, British photojournalist and filmmaker Tim Hetherington documented American soldiers serving in Battle Company, 173rd Airborne. The fighting in this region of Afghanistan was particularly dangerous. It’s where Hetherington met Giunta. Hetherington recalls Giunta’s heroics on that October day:

Coming soon on Art Beat, Jeffrey Brown talks to Hetherington about his work in Afghanistan, which led to the prize-winning documentary with Sebastian Junger, “Restrepo,” and a new book of photographs called “Infidel.”

Here’s a 14-minute video about Giunta and the firefight. Iowa Public Television also spoke with the 25-year-old Iowan about the honor.

Of the millions of Americans to serve in uniform, only 3,448 have been awarded the Medal of Honor, according to the Congressional Medal of Honor Society. The medal is awarded only after a thorough vetting process by the Defense Department. More than 3,400 have been bestowed since the Civil War, including 247 in the Vietnam war. In addition to Giunta, there are fewer than 100 living recipients.

According to WETA’s “American Valor” series, more than half of those awarded the Medal of Honor did not survive the action for which it was bestowed.

Recently, the Medal of Honor Society held their convention in Charleston, S.C., and SCETV’s Big Picture spoke with several of these special veterans.

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