I was inspired to read the comments on CNN's news page ... So many mention the virtues of Charity, Humility, Courage, Sacrifice ... Indeed Staff Sgt. Salvatore Giunta is a virtuous hero we should all be proud of - especially our brothers in the great state of Iowa.
Washington (CNN) -- A 25-year-old Army staff sergeant from Iowa will be the first living recipient of the Medal of Honor since three service members from the Vietnam War were honored in 1976.
President Obama will award the nation's highest medal of valor to Staff Sgt. Salvatore Giunta on Tuesday. Giunta was a specialist serving with the Airborne 503rd Infantry Regiment on his second tour of duty in Afghanistan when his unit was attacked on the night of October 25, 2007.
According to Defense Department documents, Giunta and his fellow soldiers were walking back to base along the top of a mountain ridge when the enemy attacked from their front and their left. Taliban fighters barraged the Americans with AK-47s, rocket-propelled grenades and Soviet-era large machine guns.
Giunta saw several of his fellow soldiers go down. He ran forward, throwing grenades and returning enemy fire, to help one soldier who had been shot but was still fighting, the documents say. Then he noticed one of the wounded soldiers was missing.
Searching for his wounded friend Sgt. Josh Brennan, Giunta ran over a hill where moments before Taliban fighters had been shooting at him. Now he was alone, out of sight of his fellow soldiers, in an area that the Taliban had controlled just moments before.
Giunta saw two Taliban fighters dragging Brennan away. He ran after them, killing one and wounding the other, who ran off.
Giunta instantly started providing first aid to Brennan, who had been shot at least six times, the documents say. Eventually a medic arrived and a helicopter was called in to take Brennan to a hospital, but he later died of his wounds.
Giunta's action, however, meant that Brennan was not at the mercy of the Taliban, and his parents would be able to give him a proper burial instead of wondering what became of him.
Giunta's quick response to the Taliban attack also helped his unit repulse the enemy fighters before they could cause more casualties, the Defense Department documents note.
Giunta was shot twice, with one round hitting his body armor and the second destroying a weapon slung over his back. He was not seriously hurt.
According to the White House, the Medal of Honor is awarded to "a member of the Armed Forces who distinguishes themselves conspicuously by gallantry above and beyond the call of duty ... The meritorious conduct must involve great personal bravery or self-sacrifice so conspicuous as to clearly distinguish the individual above his or her comrades and must have involved risk of life."
Giunta has said he is determined to make the medal, at least symbolically, belong to others.
"It is a great thing," Giunta said after learning he would receive the medal. "But it is a great thing that has come at a personal loss to myself and so many other families."
Giunta said when he first learned he would receive the Medal of Honor, "I felt lost. I felt kind of angry ... just because, you know, this is so big. This is, it came at such a price. It came at the price of a good buddy of mine, not just Brennan. But Mendoza. Mendoza died that night as well."
The squadron's medic, Hugo Mendoza of El Paso, Texas, was caught with the rest of the group.
"These two men on that day made the biggest sacrifice anyone can ever make. And it's not for a paycheck."
The Medal of Honor is the highest military decoration awarded by the United States government. It is bestowed on members of the United States armed forces who distinguish themselves "conspicuously by gallantry and intrepidity at the risk of his or her life above and beyond the call of duty while engaged in an action against an enemy of the United States." Due to the nature of its criteria, it is often awarded posthumously (more than half have been since 1941.
Members of all branches of the U.S. military are eligible to receive the medal, and there are three versions (one for the Army, one for the Air Force, and one for the Navy, Marines, and Coast Guard). The Medal of Honor is often presented personally to the recipient or, in the case of posthumous awards, to next of kin, by the President of the United States. Due to its honored status, the medal is afforded special protection under U.S. law.
The Medal of Honor is one of two military neck order awards issued by the United States, but is the sole neck order awarded to the US armed forces. The other is the Commander's Degree of the Legion of Merit, which is only authorized for issue to foreign dignitaries.
As the award citation includes the phrase "in the name of Congress", it is sometimes called the Congressional Medal of Honor; however, the official title is the Medal of Honor.
In total, 3,470 medals have been awarded to 3,451 different people. Nineteen men received a second award: 14 of these received two separate medals for two separate actions, and five received both the Navy and the Army Medals of Honor for the same action. For actions since the beginning of World War II, 855 Medals of Honor have been awarded, 527 (or 62%) posthumously. In total, 624 of the medals have been awarded posthumously.