It is almost exactly 7,000 miles from Chicago to Afghanistan. To American soldiers, it must seem like light years. But as Sgt. Sal Giunta walked Chicago's snowy streets Monday, the men and woman on the battlefields a world away were very close.
Giunta is the United States' newest Medal of Honor hero. But the 25-year-old Iowa native argues that others are far more deserving.
"Just because I'm the one wearing it, it's not for me," he said. "It's for the bigger people, the faster people, the stronger people; the people who have given blood, sweat and tears for their country; the people who were not able to come back, who paid the ultimate sacrifice, so we can live the way we do."
Sgt. Giunta and fellow members of Company B, 2nd Battalion of the 503rd Infantry Regiment, found themselves surrounded in a Taliban ambush on October 25, 2007. Facing what his fellow soldiers described as a "wall of bullets," Giunta charged into the withering fire to rescue a fallen comrade from two enemy fighters who were carrying him away."
"There were over 40 rocket propelled grenades fired at us, machine gun fire, AK-47's, everything you can imagine," said Sgt. Brett Perry, a fellow platoon member. "They were close enough that I could hear them yelling while they were shooting."
Giunta minimizes his heroism.
"What happened that night was something we prepared for," he said. "We don't have side jobs. We are prepared soldiers through and through. This is what we do for a living."
The young sergeant was hit twice by Taliban bullets. His body armor saved him.
"The bullet hit the plate. No harm, no foul. You can't let that stop you," he said.
And it didn't. As the two enemy fighters picked his wounded comrade up from the frozen ground, Giunta charged toward them firing his weapon.
"It's automatic," he said, still finding it difficult to re-live the moments of that evening. "We train how we fight. This is not a new concept for us. We know what to do when its our time to do it, and that's the position I was in. And not a hesitation. Not a question. No thought. Just make that stop."
If Giunta attempts to downplay his role that terrible night, his commanders respectfully disagreed. In bestowing the nation's highest honor, the salutation said he embodied the highest ideals of Army values.
Asked what he would tell the enemy about the Americans they were fighting, Giunta declared it would be a short conversation. Then he offered this:
"We're the greatest in the world. I truly believe that. The soldiers we have right now, the men and women in the armed services, we are men and women who have raised our hand and said we will go to war, we will fight the enemy of the United States, to preserve the American way of life."
"If you want to fight us, go ahead. But we're not going to stop, because we're here. Not on our behalf, but on behalf of the United States of America."
"I haven't done anything incredible," he said. "There's people who have given their lives so we can sit and talk. And those are true heroes. Those are the people, and they can't say that for themselves. They can't come back and kiss their family, and hug their loved ones and let everyone know what a great job they did, because they paid the ultimate sacrifice."
"And I hope I can talk, on their behalf."