Medal of Honor recipients reveal feelings about receiving ‘tremendous honor’: ‘wildly bittersweet’

Fox News Digital spoke with two Medal of Honor recipients who shared about their experiences receiving the nation's highest military honor ahead of Medal of Honor Day.

FIRST ON FOX: Two Medal of Honor recipients revealed their feelings about receiving the nation’s highest military honor 

Fox News Digital spoke with two recipients of the Medal of Honor — retired Army Staff Sergeants Sal Giunta and Clint Romesha — ahead of the day commemorating those who went above and beyond the call of duty in defending America.

Giunta, who enlisted with the Army in November 2003, said that receiving the Medal of Honor from former President Obama was “crazy.”


“It’s wildly bittersweet, because it’s such a tremendous honor,” Giunta said. “It was never a goal or an aspiration.”

“I mean, I can’t imagine what it’s like to win an Olympic gold, because you try for your whole life, and for the Medal of Honor, you don’t try for it at all,” he continued. “You just try to do the best you can in the situation you’re presented.”

“And to be on that elevated stage of the White House was with the President of the United States is huge. That said, the light weight of that ribbon is incredibly heavy and [the] responsibility and, you know, the individuals knowing what it cost. And in my 27 months deployed, I lost 28 buddies. That night I lost two young men that would never get to grow old and have wives and kids and families. And I think that weighs on it.”

Giunta said that neither he nor Romesha “gave everything for the Medal of Honor,” that they “gave as much as” they could, and it “was decided that it wasn’t going to need to be everything, but others did.”

“And so to stand on that stage and receive the accolades that so many deserve and so many didn’t receive is fairly painful,” Giunta said. “I mean, today you won’t really see me wear the medal, it weighs that heavy on me. I can talk about it, I will be a Medal of Honor recipient, but it’s not something that is going to define me because that was never me. It was always us.”

Romesha, who enlisted in the Army in September 1999, agreed with Giunta that there is a “moment of bittersweetness” while on stage and that “you can’t help but think in the back of your mind of all those other great teammates around you were there that day that were doing everything they needed to be done, and you were doing everything you needed to get done.”

“You’ve got that spotlight on, and it is bittersweet, because you’re sitting there getting acknowledgment in the face of the nation, yet you can’t help but sit there and think of the guys that didn’t come back with you,” Romesha said.

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“The men that, like Sal said, will never grow old, never have another Christmas with their family, another birthday with their kids,” Romesha continued. “And you just kind of reflect on that.”

“And I know for me, it was one of those. I had a moment on stage; I was just trying to zone everything out, just trying to be removed from the situation, but looking out in the audience and seeing my family sitting there and right behind them, the family of the eight guys we lost, the Gold Star families and just to the left, the guys I was with that day. And just thinking to myself, you know, really kind of suck it up here. But I couldn’t think of a better group of people to be with than my family, our Gold Star families and my military family sharing this one moment together.”

“Without them, we’d be nothing,” Romesha also said. “And when you wear that battle it represents not just you but all of those men and all of those servicemen and women that continue to serve and will continue to do this in the future.”

Both Romesha and Giunta both do work for America’s Warrior Partnership, which aims to prevent veteran suicide by partnering with communities to help former service members in their areas.

Giunta said there is a “disconnect” as to what at-risk veterans “need,” and he thinks “American Warrior Partnership does a tremendous job not only on identifying those needs through studies, tracking those needs and what trying to find a way to analyze it, to make actionable decisions off of the data, not just collect data and then to pursue the approach to integrate back into society.”

Romesha said that American Warrior Partnership’s “mindset of empowering” blew him away as well as the different initiatives by the organization, including Mission Roll Call to help veterans find civilian employment and reintegrate into society after serving.

Fox News Digital also asked the pair for their thoughts on the bipartisan bill from Reps. Troy Nehls, R-Texas, and Chris Pappas, D-N.H., looking to give Medal of Honor recipients a pension raise to $100,000.

Romesha said his feelings were “conflicting” and asked, “If you’re not taking care of your nation’s highest-honored veterans, you’re not doing everything in your power, what are you doing for the rest of them?”

“If we’re not continuing to try and improve what our veterans have given us every step of the way, then what are we showing the next generation, right? It’s always kind of bittersweet. What is the amount, right? That’s what we’re always going to argue. My thought is always we can always do more for our veterans, for our men and women. We can always do a little more. So let’s not get too fixated on a number. Let’s just make sure that every veteran, regardless of their award status, we go above and beyond to take care of any issues they might have.”

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Giunta, the first living recipient of the honor since the Vietnam War, quipped that his fellow Medal of Honor recipient’s response was “diplomatic” and said that he thinks an increase to recipients’ pensions is “awesome.”

“I think it’s super great for a guy like me, right? I was in eight years,” Giunta said. “I don’t have a retirement from the military. [I] did eight years, and I quit and I pursued the next adventure in life.”

“I didn’t create new opportunities as far as being a Medal of Honor recipient, but I definitely think some of the requests or demands kind of hinder a little bit of life. And it’s not that I don’t love talking to you, but I got a screen behind my phone right now and I got a screen over here, and in my world, it’s 9:30 in the morning on a Friday on a work day in Texas. And so to find the time to balance what I care about and what’s meaningful with what actually will support my family and pay the bills can be difficult sometimes because I think we are so drawn towards service.”

“And so if it happens, it’d be awesome. If it doesn’t happen, my world doesn’t change,” Giunta also said. “I still work, you know, 40, 45 hours a week and I still end up giving my time on top of that. And I’ll be the same person. I don’t know if all recipients will be as lucky.”

Romesha’s Medal of Honor citation reads that he “distinguished himself by acts of gallantry and intrepidity at the risk of his life above and beyond the call of duty while serving as a Section Leader with Bravo Troop, 3d Squadron, 61st Cavalry Regiment, 4th Brigade Combat Team, 4th Infantry Division, during combat operations against an armed enemy at Combat Outpost Keating, Kamdesh District, Nuristan Province, Afghanistan on October 3, 2009.”

“On that morning, Staff Sergeant Romesha and his comrades awakened to an attack by an estimated 300 enemy fighters occupying the high ground on all four sides of the complex, employing concentrated fire from recoilless rifles, rocket propelled grenades, anti-aircraft machine guns, mortars and small arms fire. Staff Sergeant Romesha moved uncovered under intense enemy fire to conduct a reconnaissance of the battlefield and seek reinforcements from the barracks before returning to action with the support of an assistant gunner.”

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“Staff Sergeant Romesha took out an enemy machine gun team and while engaging a second, the generator he was using for cover was struck by a rocket-propelled grenade, inflicting him with shrapnel wounds. Undeterred by his injuries, Staff Sergeant Romesha continued to fight and upon the arrival of another soldier to aid him and the assistant gunner, he again rushed through the exposed avenue to assemble additional soldiers. Staff Sergeant Romesha then mobilized a five-man team and returned to the fight equipped with a sniper rifle.”

“With complete disregard for his own safety, Staff Sergeant Romesha continually exposed himself to heavy enemy fire, as he moved confidently about the battlefield engaging and destroying multiple enemy targets, including three Taliban fighters who had breached the combat outpost’s perimeter. While orchestrating a successful plan to secure and reinforce key points of the battlefield, Staff Sergeant Romesha maintained radio communication with the tactical operations center. As the enemy forces attacked with even greater ferocity, unleashing a barrage of rocket-propelled grenades and recoilless rifle rounds, Staff Sergeant Romesha identified the point of attack and directed air support to destroy over 30 enemy fighters. After receiving reports that seriously injured Soldiers were at a distant battle position, Staff Sergeant Romesha and his team provided covering fire to allow the injured Soldiers to safely reach the aid station. Upon receipt of orders to proceed to the next objective, his team pushed forward 100 meters under overwhelming enemy fire to recover and prevent the enemy fighters from taking the bodies of their fallen comrades.”

“Then-Specialist Salvatore A. Giunta distinguished himself by acts of gallantry at the risk of his life above and beyond the call of duty while serving as a rifle team leader with Company B, 2d Battalion (Airborne), 503d Infantry Regiment during combat operations against an armed enemy in the Korengal Valley, Afghanistan on October 25, 2007,” Giunta’s Medal of Honor citation reads.

“When an insurgent force split Specialist Giunta’s squad into two groups, he exposed himself to enemy fire to pull a comrade back to cover. Later, while engaging the enemy and attempting to link up with the rest of his squad, Specialist Giunta noticed two insurgents carrying away a fellow soldier. He immediately engaged the enemy, killing one and wounding the other, and provided medical aid to his wounded comrade while the rest of his squad caught up and provided security. His courage and leadership while under extreme enemy fire were integral to his platoon’s ability [to] defeat an enemy ambush and recover a fellow paratrooper from enemy hands.”

Medal of Honor Day was recognized on Saturday, March 25.

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