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To be Irish-Italian, Iowan and idolized

Nov. 29, 2012 - 03:51PM   |   Last Updated: Nov. 29, 2012 - 03:51PM  |  
Written by former Staff Sgt. and Medal of Honor recipient Salvatore Giunta, "Living with Honor: A Memoir" is scheduled for release Dec. 4.
Written by former Staff Sgt. and Medal of Honor recipient Salvatore Giunta, "Living with Honor: A Memoir" is scheduled for release Dec. 4. ()
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Living with Honor: A Memoir

By Staff Sgt. Salvatore A. Giunta with Joe Layden, Threshold Editions, 320 pages, hardback, paperback, ebook and audio book available Dec. 4.

Sal Giunta, an Irish-Italian Iowan, admittedly is the last kid you would pick to end up receiving the military's highest recognition, the Medal of Honor.

In high school he is a "classic underachiever," belligerent, aimless and self-destructive. Working at Krispy Kreme adds 75 pounds to his 5-feet-8 body. He gets a "splatter of ink across my back," a "massive" tattoo that means — now — "I was 17 and stupid." At Subway as a "sandwich ‘artist‘" he hears a radio spot "promising a free T-shirt to anyone who stopped by the local recruiting center."

He receives a shirt and "a sense of curiosity." The Army gets a soldier who goes from specialist back to private between deployments after he is handed a driving-under-the-influence citation in Italy while averaging "a 12-pack per day."

"We were young and wild and no longer had anyone shooting at us," he says. "And we missed it [combat]. I'm not saying it's right — I'm just saying you can't expect young men to put away all of that testosterone and act like civilian gentlemen just because the bullets are no longer flying."

The Army also gets a soldier who "like most of the guys in the 173rd, I wanted to fight" without Italian bravado or Irish bragging and with endless training: "Combat is the confirmation of your practice."

And "war is brutal and inhuman and tragic on multiple levels." Yet "there is nothing more exhilarating, nothing that makes you feel more alive than being so close to death. It's sweet and sick, and so very simple."

To remain sane he tries to be "cold and callous, maintaining emotional distance from the people we were fighting." He concentrates on "how well I performed the mission given to me on any given day."

An "awful" October 2007 day in Korengal Valley eventually brings Giunta acclaim that is embarrassing at first because "I know for a fact that others behaved just as courageously. ... If you put anyone in First Platoon in my shoes, he would have done the same thing." ("DTV" — "damn the valley" — is Giunta's more recent, smaller tattoo.)

However, he appreciates that prestige provides a platform for praising the "men and women who do the fighting — too often, they don't get to talk. I want their voices to be heard." A reader is all ears after Giunta and Layden say Giunta receives "priceless" advice from other recipients but the authors share no wealth.

Such generalities and others — a soldier is "an amazing dude" and life now is "incredibly rewarding" — prevent the story from having the character of fellow MOH recipient Dakota Meyer's "Into the Fire," written with Bing West and published three months ago. However, the insight into Giunta's experience is worthwhile.

J. Ford Huffman is a Military Times book reviewer.

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