Honor 'bittersweet' for rare living Medal of Honor recipient

For veterans by veterans

By Jennifer Rizzo and Larry Shaughnessy, CNN cnnAuthor = "By Jennifer Rizzo and Larry Shaughnessy, CNN";

September 15, 2010 -- Updated 1710 GMT (0110 HKT)

Washington (CNN) -- The first living Medal of Honor recipient since the Vietnam War says his receiving the prestigious award is bittersweet.

"All of this is great," U.S. Army Staff Sgt. Salvatore Giunta said during a teleconference Wednesday. "But it does bring back a lot of memories of people that I would love to share this moment with. And I am just not going to have this opportunity because they are no longer with us."

Giunta said the day his unit came under attack was quiet and started out like any other day in Afghanistan.

"We are all soldiers and we are all out on a mission," he said.

Giunta, 25, was a specialist serving with the Airborne 503 Infantry Regiment on his second tour of duty in Afghanistan when his unit was attacked on the night of October 25, 2007. He recalls himself as an average soldier, saying he didn't do anything that someone else wouldn't have done.

According to Defense Department documents seen by CNN, Giunta and his fellow soldiers were walking back to base along the top of a mountain ridge when the enemy attacked from their front and their left. Taliban fighters barraged the Americans with AK-47s, rocket propelled grenades and Soviet era large machine guns.

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. Then he noticed one of the wounded soldiers was missing.

He ran over a hill where moments before Taliban fighters where shooting at him to find his wounded friend, Sgt. Josh Brennan. But now he was alone, out of sight of his fellow soldiers, in an area that the Taliban had controlled just moments before.

Giunta saw two Taliban fighters dragging Brennan away. He ran after them, killing one Taliban and wounding the other, who ran away.

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