Staff Sgt. Sal Giunta, an Afghan war veteran and the first living recipient of the Medal of Honor since the Vietnam War, said he has adjusted well to what he has often described as the burden of having received the award.
In an interview with Newsmax TV, Giunta, whose book "Living with Honor," has recently been released in paperback, said," I'm holding up great. You know it opened up a lot of different doors for me that I never anticipated on being open and it kind of has given me a new path in life and it's not a bad path; it's a great life."
Giunta continued, "With time it become easier. The more I get out, the more I experience these young men and women joining the service, the people in the hospitals, and just to see the true heart of the American people, it motivates me. If I can be any sort of motivation for the people, let that be that I am one of them, and it has definitely made the responsibility a little bit lighter seeing what I represent and who I represent."
Giunta told Newsmax he believes the support systems for PTSD and wounded vets are improving. "Things are getting better. Things have never been as good as they are right now as far as addressing the post-traumatic stress issue and our military veterans returning from combat," he said.
"But things can always get better. We need to never stop improving the systems in place to help these men and women as they return from combat, especially the post-traumatic stress because it doesn't necessarily show its face today; it might show its face in 10 years, hopefully when we're not at war, and we need to have a society that's accepting and people ready to assist when that time comes."
Asked whether there was anything in his training that prepared him for what he experienced in a combat zone, Giunta, who was a 17-year-old child working at a Subway in Iowa before his deployment, responded, "There were a lot of things that the military didn't prepare us for. As far as truly being prepared for war, we live such a cushioned life in the United States of America, I don't think there's any way we can train for those hardships. They did prepare me in every way they could minus the actual what war entails."
Giunta's book recounts a night in October 2007 when his unit, on patrol in the Korengal Valley, one of the most dangerous parts of Afghanistan known as the Valley of Death, was ambushed by Taliban fighters.
"We all did everything that we could for one another and for ourselves, and I try not to go back and rehash that too many times because I can't change it and it's not going to get any better than it already is," Giunta said. " I don't need to toot my own horn I need to toot the horn of the men that we don't say their names, the Eric Gallardos and the Kaleb Caseys and the Garrett Clarys out there."
After two enemy fighters captured one of Giunta's best friends, Sgt. Brennan, and started to carry him off, Giunta ran after them and was shot. Asked what motivated him, Giunta explained, "I truly believe I'm not a very smart man, but I am a product of my environment and my entire life I've been nurtured and cared for and shown what's right and what's wrong and what to do and what not to do."
He continued, "And when I joined the military, I became part of this brotherhood of people that will lead you from the front, will follow you from behind, and will stand to the left and right of you no matter what the situation is. And what happened that night was all of us doing what we believed to be the right answer. No one did anything special. I didn't do anything special. That is definitely a trained thing to do."
"I didn't just make that up in my mind on how to go forward," Giunta added. "We were all going forward but there were so many pieces of the pie that needed to be solved and we all had a different piece and that was just my piece of it that night."
As for what he wants people to take away from his book, Giunta said, "I hope one of the things that is taken away is that anything's possible. I'm a kid from a small town, Cedar Rapids, Iowa, and I joined the Army not with any idea of changing the world but just of service. And the things I've been able to do and the places I've gone because of this idea of service, if I can do it, anyone can do it."
"We just have to set these goals, have these priorities on what we want to do in life. If small town Iowa can do it, small town anywhere in America can do it; big town America can do it. It's just hope for the future. Every day is a new day and we all have so many endless opportunities. We need to seize those," he said.
Giunta also talked about the scholarship foundation he started in honor of his fallen friends, Sgt. Brennan and Sgt. Mendoza.
"My scholarship is currently at Cedar Rapids John F. Kennedy High School and it's for $1,000. It's for any student going into military service, teachers, first responders, someone who wants to live a life of service. And it's in the name of Sgt. Brennan and Spc. Hugo Mendoza because they gave everything that night," Giunta explained.
"I gave absolutely nothing. I get to stick around another day because of what those men sacrificed for me and I wanted that to be apparent at the high school that I came up in. It's just one more way to give back to the community that, like I said, helped raise me. I thought it was a good idea so why not?"
Addressing his plans for the future, Giunta said, "I had this grand idea that I was going to go to school and I still have that grand idea that I'm going to go to school. I believe knowledge is power. But in fear of saying the grass is always greener on the other side, I continued kind of speaking, talking about what the men and women do overseas. My service has been validated and if there's anything I can do it's to validate what they do every day. "
"But I do believe school will be next," he added. "I'm hoping here in the next year I can actually get enrolled in classes and go on to the next adventure in life."
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