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America's newest Medal of Honor recipient is leaving the Army

By Larry Shaughnessy, CNN Pentagon Producer
Staff Sgt. Salvatore Giunta was awarded the Medal of Honor in November.
Staff Sgt. Salvatore Giunta was awarded the Medal of Honor in November.
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • Sgt. Giunta plans to continue his education
  • He was awarded medal in November for valor against Taliban
  • He has served two tours in Afghanistan

Washington (CNN) -- Staff Sgt. Salvatore Giunta, the nation's only living Medal of Honor recipient for the current wars, is leaving the U.S. Army and will focus on his education, a spokesman said.

Giunta will leave in mid-June of this year. He and his wife are planning to move to Fort Collins, Colorado, where he will continue his education using the GI Bill, said Todd Oliver, a spokesman for Giunta's unit in Italy.

"Those that know him are not surprised by this," said Lt. Col. Greg Hapgood of the Iowa National Guard. Giunta is an Iowa native and Hapgood acted as the family's point of contact during the media frenzy surrounding his medal.

Giunta was awarded the Medal of Honor in November for his deeds in a fight with the Taliban in Afghanistan in October 2007.

Giunta "killed one of the guys who was dragging my team leader away, Sgt. (Josh) Brennan," Sgt. Franklin Eckrode, who was in the same squad, told CNN in November. "Wounded another one. Recovered Sgt. Brennan. Brought him back to an area where we could secure him and continue the fight. Started the aid on him."

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Every member of that platoon was struck by enemy fire that night. The medic, Spc. Hugo Mendoza of El Paso, Texas, was killed. Giunta was hit twice by bullets: One hit his armored vest, the other hit a weapon on his back. Neither caused serious injuries.

Giunta went back to work with his unit moments after the attack ended.

He served two tours in Afghanistan over seven years.

Giunta has been honored a number of times since President Barack Obama awarded him the nation's highest award for valor, most recently at Sunday's Super Bowl in Texas.

Giunta joined the Army in 2003 while working at a neighborhood fast-food shop. He went into an Army recruiting station to get a free T-shirt and decided to enlist.

Giunta was a specialist serving with the Airborne 503rd Infantry Regiment when his unit was attacked on the night of October 25, 2007, by Taliban fighters who barraged the Americans with AK-47s, rocket-propelled grenades and Soviet-era large machine guns.

According to Defense Department documents, 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, Brennan, Giunta ran over a hill where, moments before, Taliban fighters had been shooting at him. He was alone, out of sight of his fellow soldiers, in an area that the Taliban had controlled just moments before.

Two Taliban fighters were dragging Brennan away. Giunta ran after them, killing one and wounding the other, who ran off.

Giunta instantly started providing first aid to Brennan, who 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.

Even though he's leaving the Army, Giunta is entitled to a number of special benefits reserved for Medal of Honor recipients, including a monthly Veterans Affairs pension of more than $1,100 a month for life as well as an invitation to every presidential inauguration and inauguration party.

 
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