Medal of Honor Recipient Visits Local Vets (December 14, 2010)

Trib Local
December 14, 2010
By Maureen Dyman

It's not every day that you get to shake the hand of a true American hero… especially when that hero is the first living serviceman to receive the military' s Medal of Honor since the Vietnam war. A group of patients at the Edward Hines Jr. VA Hospital in suburban Chicago were thrilled to receive this once in a lifetime opportunity in December when Medal of Honor Recipient Army Staff Sgt Salvatore Giunta stopped by a North Riverside National Guard Armory to help celebrate the 374th Birthday of the Army National Guard.

Staff Sgt Giunta took the time to personally shake hands with more than 200 veterans who were present for the ceremony and thanked them individually for their service. President Obama pinned the Medal of Honor on Staff Sgt Giunta for his heroic actions in the war in Afghanistan in a White House ceremony in November. The Medal of Honor is the highest military award for bravery that can be given to an individual in the United States.

"It was such an honor to meet this great American," said John Chrenka, a World War II veteran who resides in the Hines Community Living Center. Chrenka, who received the Silver Star for his actions while storming the beach in the Normandy invasion of World War II, said he was surprised when Staff Sgt Giunta thanked him for his service to the country. "What a class act," he said. "when I heard the story of his incredible bravery in combat, I was speechless….and that doesn't happen to me very often. Hearing this hero thank me for my service made me speechless again. It was moment I will never forget."

Staff Sgt Giunta was in Chicago as the first stop on the Army’s nationwide tour honoring his heroic actions in combat. He began his trip by braving blizzard conditions and a terrible performance by the Chicago Bears to receive a hero’s welcome from more than 62,000 fans at Chicago’s Soldier Field. Although he was raised in Iowa, he is a diehard Bears fan and cheered loudly for the Bears despite a disappointing loss.

When Staff Sgt Giunta and the official party for the ceremony arrived, hundreds of flashbulbs went off and the crowd rose to its feet for a standing ovation. Many in the crowd were moved to tears to be in his presence. Despite this rock star reception, Staff Sgt Giunta was quick to point out that "even though the focus has been on me quite a bit lately, I truly am just one of many guys who serve our country every day."

"All of us need to remind Americans of the great sacrifice that the men and women in uniform make so that we can have our freedom," Staff Sgt Giunta told the crowd. "I am most proud of the fact that I was able to serve alongside some incredible soldiers. They really are the heroes."

Also present and recognized at the ceremony were Sharon Helman, Hines Director, Dan Grant, Director of the Illinois Department of Veterans Affairs, Illinois Congressman Daniel Lipinski and hundreds of area veterans and veterans service organizations.

Keely Moran, a blind rehabilitation specialist in the Hines Blind Center, was among the hospital staff who got to meet Staff Sgt Giunta and shake his hand. As the wife of a Marine, Moran was especially moved by the veterans in the crowd and their reaction to this hero. "It was a great experience," Moran said. "I walked one of our Desert Storm veterans up to meet Staff Sgt Giunta and they ended up having a private and very emotional conversation that moved our patient to tears. It was very heartwarming to see how he connected on a personal level with our veterans."

Director Helman agreed. "Meeting Staff Sgt Giunta was one of the highlights of my career," she said. "He was very humble and made such a point of taking the time to meet and speak with all of the veterans in the crowd. He makes me proud to be an American and even prouder to be in a profession that is dedicated to serving our nation’s heroes. He is right…..all veterans really are heroes."

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