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Soldiers' selfless acts should inspire at holidays

By Mike Scotti, Special to CNN
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STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • Mike Scotti says holidays are a time to reflect on valor of Medal of Honor recipients
  • He says Salvatore Giunta risked his life and seven other medal recipients lost theirs
  • Scotti, a veteran, describes how three of them threw themselves on grenades to save buddies
  • Scotti: In holiday stress, we should be inspired by them: live unselfishly, help others

Editor's note: Mike Scotti served as a U.S. Marine in Afghanistan in 2001 and Iraq in 2003, and is a founding board member of Reserve Aid, a military-themed nonprofit charity. He is the founder of the Military Veterans Club at the NYU Stern School of Business and is the subject of the documentary film "Severe Clear."

(CNN) -- As we march into another hectic holiday season, past Veterans Day and past the ceremony in which Staff Sgt. Salvatore Giunta became the first living recipient of the Medal of Honor since the Vietnam War, it is a good time to pause and to reflect on this.

There is something extraordinary about young men like Giunta and the seven others who, posthumously, were awarded the Medal of Honor by Congress as a result of their actions in wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.

These men see the world differently than we do. Their actions go far beyond the duty to which they swore, right hands held high, at 18 or 19 years old, just before shipping off to boot camp. They go far beyond the level of courage it takes just to stand your ground in combat, weapon in hand, returning fire and facing the enemy who is trying to kill you.

These eight men were the selfless. The angels and saints of our time.

See complete coverage of the Medal of Honor, including stories on Staff Sgt. Salvatore Giunta

As the bullets rip the air around your head in combat, instincts that stretch back for millennia almost compel you to seek preservation behind or inside of something strong and safe. Cover is what it is called. A rock. Or a trench. Or a small bump in the terrain. Anything that will stop the bullets and jagged pieces of shrapnel from tearing your flesh and smashing your bones.

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But men like Giunta choose to leave the relative safety of cover and charge into danger. They choose to expose themselves to a high probability of death or grave injury. And they do so because their buddies are in trouble. Because when you fight together and face death together and risk your lives for each other, there is nothing that can pull you apart. Your souls become fused like armor.

It takes just a few seconds from the time the pin is pulled on a hand grenade until it detonates. A few seconds for it to be tossed, whirl through the air and come to rest near a few pairs of dusty boots and the tired warriors who are wearing them.

But three men -- U.S. Marine Cpl. Jason Dunham, Army Pfc. Ross McGinniss and Navy Petty Officer Michael Monsoor -- each confronted by that situation in battle, unhesitatingly chose within those few fateful seconds to dive onto the explosive device, their bodies absorbing the blast and the shrapnel, saving the lives of their buddies.

Each of the three was awarded the Medal of Honor posthumously: Dunham in 2007, McGinniss and Monsoor in 2008.

Few of us will ever be as selfless or as brave as these men. But if we, running through the course of our busy lives, can display just a fraction of the unselfishness and courage that they have demonstrated, it will help to make the world better.

So this holiday season, while you are fighting the crowds and fighting the traffic and it all seems so stressful and utterly important, take a moment to think about what these young men did for their buddies, and for all of us. And the next time you have simmering thoughts of maybe going to volunteer for something good that builds lives or makes things right or helps others, please do it.

Because men and women on the battlefield have only seconds to make their decisions. We, however, have a lifetime.

The opinions expressed in this commentary are solely those of Mike Scotti.