Staff Sergeant Salvatore Giunta, the first living Medal of Honor recipient since Vietnam, said Wednesday being chosen to receive the U.S. military's highest decoration was "bittersweet" and that he was an "average" soldier doing his job when his squad was ambushed by Taliban insurgents in Afghanistan's Korengal Valley in October 2007.
"It's bittersweet because it's such a huge honor," Giunta told reporters from Vicenza, Italy where he is currently posted. "But it does bring back memories of people I'd love to share this moment with and I'm not going to have that opportunity because some of them are no longer with us," he continued.
Giunta went on to say that his actions on the battlefield that ultimately saved the body of his close friend from falling in to the hands of the Taliban were not out of the ordinary.
"In this job I'm only mediocre," he said. "I'm average."
During the ambush, two soldiers were separated from the rest during the attack -- among them, Sgt. Joshua Brennan, one of Giunta's best friends.
Giunta and his comrades fought back against the enemy position with grenades as they tried to reconnect with the separated soldiers, and when Giunta saw two of the insurgents dragging a wounded Brennan down a hill, he braved enemy fire and ran after them.
Giunta shot at the Taliban fighters, killing one. He was able to reach Brennan and provide medical care. Though Brennan later died, Guinta saved his body and equipment from falling into enemy hands.
"I was just one brushstroke in the picture," Giunta said, describing how his fellow soldiers all carried out their roles the night of October 25, 2007. "There wasn't a whole lot of thinking that any of us needed to do," he said, referring to the extensive training the soldiers relied on during the attack.
Giunta said he still keeps in touch with Brennan's father, and said that although he was glad to have been able to bring his friend home, he wished it had been under different circumstances.
President Barack Obama announced last week that Giunta would receive the award for "acts of gallantry at the risk of his life that went above and beyond the call of duty."
When asked if he considered himself a hero, Giunta said he believed that everyone serving in the military who goes into the unknown deserved the title.
"As long as you include everyone with me," he concluded.
The Medal of Honor is the highest U.S. military decoration. Six servicemembers have received the Medal of Honor -- all posthumously -- following the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks on the United States, according to the American Forces Press Service.
On Oct. 6, 2010, Army Staff Sgt. Robert J. Miller, will become the seventh servicemember serving in the global war on terror to receive the Medal of Honor posthumously.
Giunta will become the eighth Medal of Honor recipient for actions in the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.
STATEMENT FROM THE WHITE HOUSE ON GIUNTA'S ACTIONS
Then-Specialist Salvatore A. Giunta distinguished himself by acts of gallantry at the risk of his life above and beyond the call of duty while serving as a rifle team leader with Company B, 2d Battalion (Airborne), 503d Infantry Regiment during combat operations against an armed enemy in the Korengal Valley, Afghanistan on October 25, 2007.
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.