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Staff Sgt. Giunta (AP/Richard Bumgardner, Defense Dept.)

Heroism after 9/11

Military | The president bestows the Medal of Honor on two soldiers who fought in Afghanistan

WASHINGTON-On a crisp, sunny morning, much like the one nine years ago when Flight 77 hurtled into the side of the Pentagon, President Obama spoke to families of victims of that attack, reminding them how their loved ones' deaths are spurring vigilance abroad so such atrocities don't happen again.

"Though it must seem some days as though the world has moved on to other things, I say to you today that your loved ones endure in the heart of our nation, now and forever," the president said Saturday.

In his Friday press conference, Obama also spoke of why the nation is at war in Afghanistan: "We're there because that was the place where al-Qaeda launched an attack that killed 3,000 Americans. And we want to make sure that we dismantle al-Qaeda, and that Afghanistan is never again used as a base for attacks against Americans and the American homeland."

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Just a few days earlier, the president announced that he would bestow a rare honor on two soldiers for their heroism in the battlefield in Afghanistan. One, Army Staff Sgt. Salvatore Giunta of Hiawatha, Iowa, is 25 and the only man living to have received the Medal of Honor since 9/11.

Three years ago, insurgents ambushed then-Spc. Giunta and his patrol squad in eastern Afghanistan-a bullet hit his chest, but his armor stopped it. Giunta ran into enemy fire to pull two wounded American soldiers to safety. Then he saw two insurgents carrying a wounded American away-he killed one of them, wounded the other, and recovered his comrade. Still under fire, he treated the soldier's severe wounds and covered him until others arrived to help.

"His courage and leadership while under extreme enemy fire were integral to his platoon's ability defeat an enemy ambush and recover a fellow American paratrooper from enemy hands," the White House wrote in a statement.

Giunta remembers it as "one of the worst days of my life," as he told The New York Times from his current post in Vicenza, Italy. "This respect that people are giving to me? This was one moment. In my battalion, I am mediocre at best. This shows how great the rest of them are."

The president also announced that he would award the Medal of Honor to Army Staff Sgt. Robert Miller, a member of Special Forces who died in Afghanistan's Kunar Province in January 2008 protecting the lives of his fellow soldiers and 15 Afghan National soldiers after they came under ambush. Wounded, he continued attacking Taliban positions, according to the Army, before he was killed. He was 24, and is survived by his parents and seven siblings.

Only six others have received the Medal of Honor for operations in Iraq and Afghanistan since 9/11, and all of them died for their heroism:

  • U.S Navy SEAL Lt. Michael Murphy, when his three fellow SEALs came under attack from 50 insurgents in the mountains of Afghanistan, left cover to call for support even though he and his comrades were already wounded. The four killed 35 of the militants, but Murphy, 29, and two others died after hours of battle. His call brought eventual rescue for one.
  • Army Sgt. Jared Monti, 30, was killed in Afghanistan as he left cover three times to try to save a wounded comrade under heavy enemy fire.
  • In Iraq, Army Sgt. Paul Ray Smith, 33, was killed while he manned a machine gun, allowing his outnumbered comrades to regroup and defeat the surrounding forces.
  • Marine Cpl. Jason Dunham, 22, threw himself on a grenade to save the lives of his comrades in Iraq.
  • A Navy SEAL, Petty Officer 2nd Class Michael Monsoor, 25, did the same, throwing himself on a grenade in Iraq and saving two soldiers with him.
  • Army Spc. Ross McGinnis, 19, also saved those in his convoy in Iraq by covering a grenade with his body.
Emily Belz
Emily Belz

Emily, who has covered everything from political infighting to pet salons for The Indianapolis Star, The Hill, and the New York Daily News, reports for WORLD from New York City. Follow Emily on Twitter @emzleb.

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