Medal of Honor Recipient on Emotional Visit to Normandy Beaches and American Cemetery

Medal of Honor Recipient makes an emotional visit to beaches of Normandy.

ByABC News
September 30, 2010, 2:35 PM

Oct. 1, 2010 -- Staff Sgt. Salvatore "Sal" Giunta is one of the most modest soldiers you will ever meet. It is difficult for him to believe that he is deserving of the Medal of Honor for his actions in Afghanistan. But on Sept. 9, President Obama called the 25-year-old soldier to tell him he was nominating him as the first living Medal of Honor recipient since the Vietnam War.

I first met Giunta in Italy, where he is currently stationed, just days after that call. He told me "In my mind, this medal is for everyone. This medal isn't for my actions. They're going to say Staff Sgt. Giunta, but that medal is going to be for everyone out there in Afghanistan and Iraq fighting every single day."

Little did I know that I would see Giunta again less than a week later on the beaches of Normandy, France. Like me, Giunta had been invited to join an Army tour of the battlefields by Gen. Carter Ham, who is the commander of U.S. Army forces in Europe. Ham is a veteran of the wars in Iraq, and someone I often covered during the most intense years of battle there. Giunta brought another young soldier with him, a "battle buddy," Staff Sgt. Caribou McDiarmid.

I had never been to Normandy before, nor had Ham nor either of the two young soldiers. It is hard to describe how emotional it is on those beaches where so many died, but whatever anyone else felt, the burden for Giunta was far greater. He would shake his head and say that compared to what those World War II veterans had been through, what he did was nothing.

But the most amazing moment of the trip came late in the day at the Normandy American Cemetery, where 9,387 American servicemen and women were buried. Among them were three Medal of Honor recipients.

As the sun was about to set, Giunta, McDiarmid and Ham were asked to help lower the flag for the night. All three were dressed in civilian clothes.

As the escort from the cemetery began explaining the ceremony protocol to Giunta, an elderly man with a cap that read "Korean War Veteran" overheard the conversation.