TODAY   |  December 02, 2012

Medal of Honor recipient: My job was to look out for my brothers

Retired Army Staff Sgt. Sal Giunta is the first living Medal of Honor recipient since the Vietnam War. He told TODAY’s Lester Holt that his heroism is "what we expect of our men and women in uniform every single day.”

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This content comes from Closed Captioning that was broadcast along with this program.

>>> countless acts of heroism by troops, some recognized, some forgotten. but no recognition is higher than the medal of honor just 3,400 brave certificaservice members have been awarded the prestigious medal since 1861 , too many of them awarded posthumously. sal giunta is the first living since the veietnam war, honored for his actions during a 2007 ambush in afghanistan. he stopped insurgents from carrying off a wounded u.s. soldier and effectively brought the fight to a halt. he describes the harrowing experience in a new book "living with honor." sal giunta, good morning. great to have you here.

>> good morning.

>> we can't say it enough. thank you for your service. this is the highest military honor. in reading your account and talking to other recipients, nobody steps out to get this medal when you join the military.

>> oh, absolutely not. i joined the military to serve my country. i don't think to receive the medal of honor means there were a lot of bad things that happened and not necessarily to yourself but those around you that you truly care about and something you don't ever seek out or want at all.

>> in this book you described that kind of action. it happened october 27, 2007 . you're ambushed. i mean, close in ambushed, well coordinated, a ferocious firefight erupts in the chaos. you are hit twas with your body armor and your gear stopped the bullets. but you charge the enemy line and you went after one of your comrades and you saw him being carried away by the insurgents and stopped them. we see this as an act of heroism. when you go back and think about that day, was it autopilot? were you thinking heroic action at the moment?

>> absolutely not,s i wasn't thinking heroic action. it's what we expect out of our men and women in uniform every day to make the hard decisions and it's what we train so we don't have to think about it. it becomes second nature to us. my only job at that time was in the military was being an infantryman in combat doing what our government asked us and looking out to the left and to the right as they looked out for me when i was on their left or right.

>> a lot of heroism that day, wasn't there?

>> absolutely. i was not the only one there and i did not do the most or give the most. two men lost their lives that day.

>> it reads in part, despite bullets impacting on and around himself specialist giunta fearlessly advanced on the enemy and proep vided aid to his fall ep comrades. his actions saved the lives of multiple paratroopers and changed the course of the battle in his platoon forever. when you first learned your name was being put up the ladder for consideration for a medal of hohn aror, you were almost angry, weren't you.

>> i was pretty angry. it's safe to say i was angry. the things that happened that day and the amount of sacrifices made by so many, are it was not a good day for the united states military . it was not a good day for the 173rd. we were attacked and we lost people that we can never get back. and to be awarded or patted on the back or congratulate d for something that was no more than what everyone else around me did seems ridiculous.

>> in fact, john, one of your fellow soldiers who had been -- was the one being carried away by the insurgents, he was badly wounded and you were tend iing to his wounds and i know he died as a result of that firefight.

>> josh brennan was the soldier being carried away and he did die. ultimately i went to fight next to my brother, i went to see where i could help or so we could at least fight together. what i came upon was not what i expe expected but we react.

>> another member of the team, your medic, was killed as well in that firefight. i have to ask you quickly, we led off with another ferocious insurgent attack in jalalabad, this time a suicide attack . as you watch five years later the u.s. still fighting, what are your thoughts about whether this job will ever get done?

>> i think the job gets done every single day, day in and day out. it's not the soldier or the air men or the ma republirinesmarines' job, we have a set objective every day, every moment for our term that we're there and we have been completing it for the last 11 years and we will continue to complete it for however long this may last. it's what we as a country wanted to find as our goal, that we want our men and women to achieve.

>> well, we salute you certainly for the honor that you received deservingly. a lot of heroes out there and we salute them as well and thank all of you for your service. retired staff sergeant sal giunta. "living with honor."