With the Medal of Honor, our nation’s highest award for valor, we recognize those who “distinguish (themselves) conspicuously by gallantry and intrepidity at the risk of (their lives), above and beyond the call of duty.” All too often, those who meet that high standard do so at the cost of their lives. This has been especially true of the conflicts in Iraq and Afghanistan. So it is indeed an occasion for great thankfulness and celebration when we can welcome one of these warriors home. While we can never fail or forget to honor the fallen, we also need living heroes – men and women who overcame every fear and every obstacle – to inspire, to teach, and to ennoble us by what they have done. Heroes like Sal Giunta.
I say this because we are in the tenth year of a conflict fought on distant shores, waged by the few for the sake of the many. A complex, and at times, confusing struggle against enemies that lurk among the innocent. A conflict that lacks the traditional battle lines, clash of armies, and clear cut definitions associated in the public mind with major wars – and many of the most celebrated heroes – of the past.
But, as we see time and again, the fundamental nature of war – and the role of individual selflessness, initiative, and courage – does not change. In writing about then-Specialist Giunta and his brother paratroopers on that historic day, I would cite another quote from Sebastian Junger in capturing the essence of combat: “There is [a] choreography for storming Omaha Beach, for taking out a pillbox bunker, and for surviving an L-shaped ambush at night on the Gatigal ...[it] always requires that each man make decisions based not on what’s best for him, but on what’s best for the group. If everyone does that, most of the group survives.”
That is what moved Sergeant Giunta to walk through the “wall of lead” to reach his wounded and pinned-down comrades. A decision to put his own life at risk so that others might live. An act that places him squarely among those magnificent few deemed worthy of this honor.
I saw Sergeant Giunta on a television interview Monday night in which his deeds were being celebrated, he said something to the effect that “People can tell me whatever they want, I’ll listen…but I’m just a middleman here, representing all those who have sacrificed and served in Iraq and Afghanistan.” Sergeant, your modesty and your humility, together with your valor, truly set you apart. Though you call yourself, and I quote “mediocre”, you are clearly exceptional, even amongst the fellow warriors you so graciously extol. But more importantly, you are a living example, a reminder to America that there are heroes—modern heroes that live and walk amongst us, heroes who are still fighting and dying to protect us every day.
The Roman Military historian Tacitus said; “In valor, there is hope.” Sergeant Giunta, I know we place a burden on you by making you a symbol of that hope, but that is why we bestow this honor on those uncommon individuals who’ve already proven their ability to bear such burdens for the sake of our country. Your valor, and the valor and courage of your comrades and the entire generation of warriors you so ably represent, offers enduring hope for the future of our country.