How Staff Sgt. Giunta Earned The Medal of Honor

First Living Recipient of Medal Since Vietnam War Talks to Lara Logan

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At the White House on Tuesday, a young man from Iowa, 25-year-old staff Sergeant Salvatore Giunta, will become the first living soldier to earn the Medal of Honor since the Vietnam War.

It's the nation's highest military award for heroism in battle and it's given for acts of extreme bravery in the face of almost certain death.

Staff Sgt. Giunta earned this honor for his actions on a remote hilltop in eastern Afghanistan on the night of Oct. 25, 2007, for repeatedly running into enemy fire to save American lives and rescue a fellow soldier from the hands of the Taliban.

You'll hear about what happened and the events leading up to that night from Giunta and the men who fought with him. You'll also hear about a place known as the Korengal Valley, where the Taliban are allied with al Qaeda and put up such a fight that the U.S. eventually gave up on the valley and pulled out last April.

60 Minutes Overtime: Sal and Jenny Giunta
From the U.S. base in Italy where they live, Staff Sergeant Sal Giunta and his wife Jenny talk about his award, their lives together, and what the future might hold.

Staff Sgt. Giunta's Medal of Honor
Extra: Staff Sgt. Giunta and The President
Extra: The Deadly Konregal Valley

When Giunta was serving there at the age of just 22, it was considered one of the roughest tours of duty in Afghanistan.

"Did you ever wake up in the morning and think, 'What the hell am I doing here?'" correspondent Lara Logan asked Giunta.

"Woke up every morning thinking, 'What the hell am I doing here,'" he replied. "I mean, we know what we're doing there, but 'What the hell are we doing here?'"

"In the Korengal Valley?" she asked.

"In the Korengal Valley," he replied.

Asked if there was anywhere in the valley that one could have felt safe, Giunta told Logan, "Maybe in your dreams."

For Giunta and the men of the 173rd Airborne Brigade, this hostile territory was home for 15 months.

Located not far from the Afghanistan-Pakistan border, the valley itself is not very big -
just six miles long and a mile across. But it's so dangerous there for U.S. soldiers that it became known to Americans as the "Valley of Death."

And when the battle company came in, they could see how hard it had been on the soldiers they were replacing.

"Some guys were talkin' to themselves. Some guys wouldn't even come up to us. They wanted nothing to do with us. You know, none of us understood why. And it wasn't long after that we figured out why they didn't want to talk to us," Staff Sergeant Gallardo, who was Giunta's squad leader, remembered.

Asked why the soldiers didn't want to talk to his men, Staff Sgt. Gallardo, 26, told Logan, "That valley just took every ounce of life out of you."

Gallardo was back in Afghanistan on another tour of duty when "60 Minutes" met up with him, along with weapons squad ammo bearer Sergeant William Michael Burns, and their machine gunner, Sergeant Brett Perry.

"That 15 months in the Korengal Valley, it was hell on Earth," Sgt. Perry remembered.

From their tiny base, the view out into the valley was at enemy territory for as far as they could see.

"There's somebody right out there trying to kill you every day. They wake up every day and they wanna kill you," Perry said.

"They weren't just hitting us on patrol. They were hitting us where we lived. So there was guys who refused to go to the bathroom during the day 'cause you'd have to go out in the open. And they wouldn't risk it. They'd wait till night, hold it until dark," Gallardo remembered.

They were far from their base when Giunta earned the Medal of Honor, deep inside the Taliban's stronghold in the valley on a major offensive.