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Salvatore A. Giunta, Living Recipient of the Medal of Honor

It’s great to see a living soldier finally receive the Medal of Honor — something that hasn’t happened since the Vietnam War. Staff Sgt. Salvatore A. Giunta is more than worthy to follow in a long line of heroes. His actions in the Korangal valley of Afghanistan — where during the course of an enemy ambush he first pulled two wounded comrades to safety and then drove off some Taliban who were attempting to kidnap a wounded soldier — are the stuff that movies are made of. Giunta has a fantastic quote in this New York Times article: ”In my battalion, I am mediocre at best. This shows how great the rest of them are.”

The award to Giunta raises a couple of interesting issues. First, why haven’t more Medals of Honor been awarded for the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq? Only six, all posthumous, have been awarded for conflicts that have featured no end of heroism. As the Times notes: “According to Pentagon statistics, 464 Medals of Honor were awarded during World War II, 133 during the Korean conflict and 246 during the war in Vietnam. An analysis by the Army Times last year concluded that there were, on average, two or three Medals of Honor awarded per 100,000 service personnel in previous wars — but that the rate for the conflicts in Iraq and Afghanistan had averaged one per million.” Why so stingy now with the nation’s highest medal? “Pentagon officials say the decisions reflect the differences of modern warfare,” according to the Times, but it’s hard to figure out what the difference is. Let us hope that Giunta’s Medal is part of a trend.

The second issue raised is, will anyone know his name? Probably not. Who, after all, has heard of Paul Smith, Michael Monsoor, or Jason Dunham — three brave warriors who gave their lives in Iraq before being honored with the Medal of Honor? Granted, most Medal of Honor recipients in previous wars were not exactly household names either, but the anonymity of today’s heroes is striking. We still revel in great deeds of heroism — as long as they’re performed by celluloid fakes like Sylvester Stallone or Tom Cruise. We no longer seem to have much interest in the real thing.