Close Read: Salvatore Giunta’s Honor : The New Yorker
Another soldier, Hugo Mendoza, died there, too. Giunta has told anyone and everyone who will listen that the award wasn’t worth losing his friends in that battle, that he was just doing his job, and that there are many heroes. All that is true, but he shouldn’t be as hard on himself as he’s sounded in some interviews; not everyone would have “just kept running up the trail,” as he did—not even close. (There has, still, been a stinginess with Medals of Honor lately, compared to our other wars—Giunta will be the first living soldier since Vietnam to get one.) President Obama, in his remarks, said,
Now, I’m going to go off-script here for a second and just say I really like this guy. I think anybody—we all just get a sense of people and who they are, and when you meet Sal and you meet his family, you are just absolutely convinced that this is what America is all about.
I really like this guy, too; President Obama undoubtedly spoke for many people there. but what does it mean when the President says that “this is what is America is all about”? Giunta seems like a good answer—brave and decent, hardworking and community minded. but that doesn’t mean that what he went through brings out the best in America, was the best thing for him, or should be what America is all about. the parents of Brennan and Mendoza were at the ceremony, but the American experience of those young men has ended. and how did America come to find itself in Giunta? before he enlisted, he was working in a Subway sandwich shop. That detail reminded me of how Richard Brody, over at the front Row, recently described a character in “the best Years of Our Lives” (one of my favorite films ever): “a scuffling soda jerk before the war who found, in war, the core of his character.” Giunta explained to Tim Hetherington, for Vanity Fair, that an offer of free T-shirts drew him to a recruitment event. but his core, not the war and not T-shirts, was the essential thing. “was it a result of 9/11, or were you curious about the world?” Hetherington asked. “I was curious about the world. I wasn’t trying to be patriotic. It just felt right,” Giunta replied. one feels, when one hears that, not that war is ennobling but that there is potential in this country that we’re missing, or not using as fully as we could. how can we satisfy and make use of that curiosity? It shouldn’t take a war to get Sal Giunta out of Subway.
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