During his high school years, Salvatore Giunta didn't care so much about grades, as he did about socializing, according to his parents.
But it was during his junior year at Kennedy High School in Cedar Rapids, IA, when two hijacked planes struck two mighty towers in New York City on Sept. 11, 2001—stunning the world, and with it, Giunta.
According to Army.mil, "His mother recalled that Salvatore immediately wanted to bring the family together and ensure their safety by picking up his brother from middle school and sister from elementary school, and she remembers telling him: 'If the world falls part, I guess I can count on you.'"
Six years later, on Oct. 25, 2007, several of Giunta's fellow soldiers would bear witness to such sentiments. While leading his team on a patrol through the harsh terrain of Korengal Valley in Afghanistan, Specialist Giunta was ambushed by insurgent fighters, forcing his team to take cover and fight back, however possible.
Before long, Giunta noticed his squad leader had fallen. Concerned he was injured, Giunta raced from cover, directly to his squad leader. Under heavy fire himself, Giunta protected his leader from further injury while administering first aid. In the midst of helping his fellow comrade, enemy fire struck Giunta's body armor and his supporting weapon.
Disregarding the intense firefight, Giunta didn't hesitate to engage the enemy back. Throwing grenades into insurgent fire, he used their explosions for cover and attempted to reach even more wounded soldiers separated from the squad. As heavy fire forced him and his team to the ground, Giunta continued forward toward the wounded.
Upon reaching them, he realized one soldier was still missing. Pushing onward—alone, this time—Giunta soon found two insurgents carrying away an American soldier. Firing on the enemy with full force, he killed one and wounded the other, before reaching the soldier and providing medical aid.
Three years later, on Sept. 10, 2010, the White House officially announced Giunta would receive the Medal of Honor for his courageous actions on that dark day in October of 2007. Giunta became the first living recipient to receive the Medal since the Vietnam War. However, Giunta has often described this great honor as "bittersweet."