MAJOR GENERAL JOHN CANTWELL – HERO, VETERAN, HUMAN BEING

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Major General John Cantwell (Ret) served in the Australian Army from 1974 to 2012. Rising from the rank of Private to Major General he was on the shortlist to become the Chief of Army following successful command in the Middle East. Instead the PTSD that had long haunted him through two decades took hold and he chose to end his vaunted military career. In the aftermath he wrote Exit Wounds which detailed his war experiences, as a senior commander who had seen combat first hand his openness about PTSD and struggles with it remind all that it is a very real concern and more should be done to help our veterans in our war weary nations.

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General Cantwell was born 1956 in Toowoomba, Queensland and was a cadet as a kid. He joined the Army in 1974 and served in the Military Intelligence Corps where he met his wife. Jane hit with a dart at the pub while they were both serving at Kapooka – it was love at first sight. As a Sergeant, humping it on exercise one day he saw a tank coming flying out of nowhere, an Armoured Corps Officer standing straight up in the hatch as he rolled on by – that was love at first sight too. Attending Officer Cadet School at Portsea in 1981 he was commissioned into the Royal Australian Armoured Corps. On exchange with the British Army in 1990 he hoped to get sent to Saudi Arabia for the first major war in a generation. Small Australian Peace Keeping Contingents had been sent to Rhodesia, the Sinai and Namibia but this was the first war since Vietnam and Cantwell got his wish. Related imageHe was allocated to an M113 Communications Bradley Armoured Personnel Carrier with two crew members where he would effectively liaise between British and American forces as they moved forward in the 100 hour ground war. Major Cantwell had been waiting and training his whole professional career for such an experience. The Allied Forces were outnumbered 4 to 1 by the Iraqi Army, the fourth largest in the world and the enemy had time to have dug in and fortified their positions. The Allies had air superiority and better equipment even if many had not seen combat and the Iraqi’s had fought the Iranians for over a decade. Decisions had to be made, tough ones but ones that are always made in war. After bombing and shelling, the allies moved forward and bulldozed any remaining Iraqi troops entrenched to negate the use of the enemy’s land mines. They buried them dead or alive. The decency of the man Cantwell never made peace with this even as the tank officer rolled forward and did his job. There was soon a pile up of equipment due to a land mine concern. The Australian Major got out of his Bradley and walked through the dangerous area to map out a course for the congestion to get through all the while knowing he could potentially be blown to pieces. There were other adventures along the way. The Bradley crew often finding themselves alone in the Desert trying to get a picture of what was going on and relay it to fighting forces. Death was a constant and all around. Cantwell still can’t get the image out of his head of an Iraqi hand sticking up through the sand. There were moments of humour though including one where the Officer aimed up on a Scorpion with his pistol before his British Squaddie killed it with a shovel.

Major Cantwell returned home a bonafide war veteran to an Army that had them in short supply. The Gulf War had been a success and the quickness of the 100 hour ground war led to much ignorance as to how dangerous it had been. The bulk of Australian forces committed to the Gulf were Naval, people who knew what he had gone through were on the other side of the world but fortunately there were still some who remembered Vietnam and their own combat fatigue. Life and his career went on and he eventually found himself Commander of the 1st Brigade in Townsville. When a posting for Iraq came up he wondered if a deployment to that part of the world would lay some demons to rest. Brigadier General John Cantwell went to Iraq in 2006 as the Director of Strategic Operations in Headquarters Multi National Forces Iraq. He worked hard in the job and was duly rewarded with several accolades including becoming the first Australian to be promoted in the field to Major General in 60 years. There were other moments though which proved much harder. A shelling of his compound while he was on his phone to his wife in his room. The ground shaking, death possibly near telling your spouse that you love them while they are on the other side of the world would not have been possible decades ago but was something Jane and John went through in modern war. A missile went past him during another attack on the steps of a palace before and he and others moved forward to a market where several had been slain. The smell of the same perfume found at the scene will take him back there years later.

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With Sapper Michael Clark in 2010. Courtesy of Defence Media.

He was also Chief of Operations during the Victorian Bushfires in 2009 where 173 people died and 414 were injured. In 2010 he served as Commander of the Australian Forces in the Middle East Area of Operations (Joint Task Force 633). Regularly going out into the field to meet with troops and see firsthand what was going on. After a mistake had been made in the past with the return of an Australian soldier, Cantwell personally inspected every deceased. His tenure as Commander saw an increase in Australian fatalities in Afghanistan. 41 Australian soldiers have died while serving on Operations in Afghanistan and one in Iraq. In 2002 the first death occurred in Afghanistan, in 2007 there were 3, in 2008 there were 3, in 2009 there were 4. In 2010 Sappers of 2nd Combat Engineer Regiment Jacob Moreland, 21 and Darren Smith, 25 were killed by IEDs in June. Also in June, Privates Scott Palmer 27, Timothy Aplin 38, Benjamin Chuck 27 of 2nd Commando Regiment died when the U.S. Black Hawk they were on crashed during operations. In July, 23 year old Private Nathan Bewes of the 6th Battalion, Royal Australian Regiment was killed by an IED. In August 29 year old Trooper Jason Brown of the SASR was shot during an engagement. Later in August 35 year old Grant Kirby and 21 year old Thomas Dale both Privates of 6RAR were killed by IED. On the 24th of August 2010 Lance Corporal Jared MacKinney of 6RAR was shot and killed during the Battle of Derapet. These were the soldiers who died during General Cantwell’s command of them and he made sure all of their bodies were returned safely to their families. It would be the final straw regarding his PTSD, Cantwell returned home and was awarded the Distinguished Service Cross for his leadership but he sought help and effectively ended his military career.

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Following retirement in 2012 he has published two books Exit Wounds: One Australia’s War on Terror and Leadership in Action. The following is an extract from Exit Wounds about some of his feelings following Command of JTF633. “The rawness of the new memories sharpens images from the past. The old familiar demons invade my sleep and sometimes my waking hours. I see the hand of a man buried alive in Iraq. The thump and buzz of incoming artillery fire fill my ears. I am seized by the terror of leading soldiers across a dark, empty desert. My fingers feel the weight of a man’s head and I smell the stench of burnt flesh. The dread of death, so close, so immediate, hollows my chest, as it did when I forced shaking legs to walk past half-hidden mines. I am transported back to a Baghdad suburb where a car bomb in a marketplace left a little girl’s pink sandals floating in a pool of blood. I taste bile in my throat at the realisation that I have ordered men down a road that killed them. I feel like I’m losing it.Exit Wounds is an important and fascinating read of his time in war but also the beginning of his journey of dealing with PTSD. Mr Cantwell remains an advocate for better mental health care for Australian veterans and is Patron or Ambassador of several organisations promoting this.

Major General John Cantwell, thank you for your service to the military and nation of Australia, thank you for your continued service to veterans and I wish you peace and happiness and many years of it to come.

-Lloyd Marken

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MAJOR RICHARD WINTERS

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Major Richard (Dick) Winters passed away 02JAN2011 aged 92 years.

He was a paratrooper and an officer during World War II with the 506th Regiment of the 101st Airborne. Most notably as a platoon commander within and then company commander of Easy Company who were the subject of the bestselling book written by historian Stephen E. Ambrose and published in the early 1990s. The book was then adapted into a television miniseries, it was called Band of Brothers.

Easy Company exploits as a result are well known including those of Winters himself who was often noted as a commander who led from the front. On D-Day he landed in France without a weapon or equipment “Not a good way to start begin a war.” he later recalled. Later that day he led twelve men in a successful attack of a German gun battery consisting of roughly 50 enemy and four 105mm Howitzers. The Howitzers were firing onto a causeway exit at Utah Beach where US troops had landed. The successful attack saved countless Allied lives. It’s still taught at West Point as a textbook assault on a fixed position. His war was just beginning, he later served in Operation Market Garden and was Battalion XO when the 101 famously held the line at Bastogne during the Battle of the Bulge. Sgt. Floyd Talbert, one of the many men under his command wrote to him a the end of the war “I would follow you into hell. When I was with you I knew everything was absolutely under control.” On the evening of 06JUN1944 Lt Winters lay down to sleep and made a promise to himself: if he lived through the war, he was going to find an isolated farm somewhere and spend the remainder of his life in peace and quiet. He did. Happily married for 52 years he leave behind his wife Ethel Estoppey and two children.

Talbert once wrote to him later in life “Do you remember the time you were leading us into Carentan? Seeing you in the middle of that road wanting to move was too much!…Dick this can go on and on. I have never discussed these things with anyone on this earth. The things we had are damn near sacred to me.” Talbert was and is right. Some things are sacred.

Some people too.

-Lloyd Marken

BARCE: WHERE RIGHT AND GLORY LED DURING WORLD WAR II

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The town flag of Barce. Copyright Lloyd Marken.

The artillery unit at Gallipoli Barracks, Enoggera Qld is 1 Regiment Royal Australian Artillery. They have deployed gunners over the past decade on secondment to the British Army in Helmland Province, Afghanistan. 105 Battery is part of the Regiment which fired in support of 6RAR at the Battle of Long Tan. The regiment has a long proud history dating back to World War One. However their lines are named Barce and in a building within those lines hangs a flag in memory of victory won long ago in another war. 2/1st Field Regiment was raised on 31OCT1939 in Ingleburn, NSW. They were the namesake of 1 Field  Regiment from World War I which saw action at Gallipoli and in France. 2/1 Field were sent to North Africa to fight with the 6th Australian division which was the first of the Australian divisions to be raised and sent to fight in this new war. It was in North Africa that something truly unique took place for an artillery unit.

 

05FEB1941 D Troop was sent forward to occupy a position with an OP overlooking the town of Barce and the coastal road. Its object was to engage any enemy moving westward from Barce but htat escape route was devoid of all signs of life. The town of Barce was alive though and the troop commander Captain Vickery looked in vain for the customary white surrender flag. He bracketed the town, one round plus, one round minus, still no white flag. He shortened the plus range a little, fired and up went a white flag. Lieutenant Lester and four O.R.s (Other Ranks) clambered down the escarpment, and were met by a group from the town carrying a white and the town flag which they handed to our boys, they in turn accepted the surrender on behalf of 2/1 FLD Regt and the Army of the Nile. That town flag resides at the Barce Lines today.

Later on a more formal surrender was taken by the 2 I/C Major Young. At 7:3opm the town was handed over to 6 Div Provost Company. During its short period of control, and with only the threat of its guns somewhere up on the escarpment, the Regiment supressed a Bedouin uprising. It also took great delight in arranging a formal welcome for the infantry, the 2/8th Battalion, when they entered the town. Barce was the last town of any size to be taken before Benghazi.

The story that circulated in the regiment, was that this was the first time in the history of the British Empire that Regiment of Field Artillery had captured and taken surrender of a town without any assistance from any other branch of the armed services.

Disputing or confirming this is irrelevant to the true significance of the battle.

Bardia which was Australia’s first major battle of World War II had just taken place and 2/1st Field Regiment had served on the gun line throughout the entire battle. Taking Tobruk from the Italians had been next. 2/1st Field Regiment would go on to fight in Greece and through two campaigns in New Guinea. By war’s end 77 members had been wounded and 33 members had died.

But as the men of 2/1 Field Regiment went to bed on the night of the 5th of February, 1941 they could sleep having taken a town with no deaths of their own, the enemy or civilian.

It was a great victory.

-Lloyd Marken

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Bir Asluj, Palestine, 12th May 1940. Guns of 2/1st Field Regiment during practice shoot. Courtesy of Australian War Memorial.
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Near Bardia. Gun Grew of No. 3 Gun, E Troop, 2/1st Field Regiment, Relax after Christmas Dinner. L to R, Gnr Trouville, Gnr Morrow, Bdr Hitcher, Gnr Sing. In front are Bdr Elliot and Sgt Firth. Courtesy of Australian War Memorial.

 

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Near Bardia, Cyrenaica. Underground Command Post of I Battery, 2/1st Field Regiment before the Battle of Bardia, December 1940. Courtesy of Australian War Memorial.
NEAR BARDIA - A GUN CREW OF B SUBSECTION OF 2/1ST FIELD REGIMENT. LEFT TO RIGHT: SERGEANT D.A. JACK: LANCE BOMBARDIER LOPEZ: GUNNER W.A. MOSS: BOMBARDIER WOOD: GUNNER T.H. O'NEILL AND (STANDING) ...
Christmas dinner at their gun site, near Bardia. Christmas Day, 1940. L to R: Sgt D. A. Jack, L Bdr Lopez,  Gnr W. A. Moss, Bdr Wood, Gnr T. H. O’Neill and standing Gnr Roach. (Negative F. Hurley.)

 

“E” Troop, 2/1 Field Regiment in position near the Bardia Front. (Negative by F. Hurley.)
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No. 5 Gun. E Troop, near Bardia Christmas Day 1940. Gnr Hillcoat, Gnr O’Sullivan, Bdr Frankfort, Gnr Krumback. Courtesy of Australian War Memorial.

Haywood, E.V. 1959. Six Years in Support : History of the 2/1 Field Regiment. Angus and Robertson.

LANCE CORPORAL MICHELLE NORRIS MC

The 11th of June 2006 changed British military history but for those that were there it was just about doing the job and taking care of their own.

Growing up in the midlands Pte Norris wanted to be a soldier. She applied to join Artillery but narrowly missed passing her fitness exam. A year of college later she aced the fitness exam but chose the Royal Army Medical Corps. 9 months of training followed before being posted to Germany where she put her hand up to go to Iraq.

She was attached to the 1st Battalion Princess of Wales Regiment, the only woman amongst 300 men. There she met Colour Sgt Ian Page who was having his birthday shortly after she got there. ” When he told me how old he was, I told him he was old enough to be my father, and he said don’t be cheeky, but after that, I always called him dad and he always called me daughter,” Pte Morris explains. During a night operation in Al-Amarah with Warrior vehicles the British forces were attacked. ” I heard a big bang up front and the driver said the commander [Page] had been hit. I asked if he was okay and nobody spoke. I told the other guys to let me out. I managed to climb up the outside of the vehicle and down through the turret. ” Pte Morris recalls. While she climbed up the side of the Warrior she was fired upon by snipers. One bullet hit her rucksack. ” I suppose I knew there were bullets, but I didn’t know how many and you don’t think, I need to be brave, you think, “I just need to get to him.‟.” explains Morris of her courage under fire.

She found Sgt Page who had been shot in the mouth, looking steadily upwards at her, trying to tell her what to do, staying calm as the shock of a gunshot wound to his face spread through his body. This 18 year old 5foot tall rookie was just eight weeks into her first deployment and had never treated anything more serious than an infected mosquito bite. ” I was worried that I would forget my training, but just looking at him lying there, it all fell into place and I knew I could do it.” says Morris. She administered first aid for three minutes with rounds landing all around her before other soldiers helped her drag Page inside the vehicle.

Following a medical evac by Lynx helicopter Sgt Page went on to make a full recovery. Her commanding officer recommended that she receive a medal for her bravery and she became the first woman ever to receive the Military Cross . The Military Cross is the third highest gallantry medal in the British armed forces equivalent to our Medal of Gallantry.

Lance Corporal Morris MC still serves in the British Army today.

-Lloyd Marken

SOUTH VIETNAMESE GENERAL NGO QUANG TRUONG’S WAR

General Ngo Quang Truong was born to a well to do family in the Mekong Delta in 1929 and after attending college he went to officer school and received his commission in 1954 serving the next 12 years in the elite airborne brigade which he would come to command. He first saw combat in 1955 to eliminate river pirates from the surrounding area of Saigon.

In the 1960s the war with north would heat up and Colonel Truong as he was then scored a series of victories against the communists. This included a period of time when a US advisor was assigned to the Airborne by the name of Major Schwarzkopf who would later as General Schwarzkopf command forces in the Persian Gulf War. He observed that Truong was the most brilliant tactical commander I‘d ever known. – Simply by visualizing the terrain and drawing on his experience fighting the enemy for 15 years, Truong showed an uncanny ability to predict what they were going to do,” Schwarzkopf wrote. He recalled a battler where Truong clearly anticipated the enemy‘s movements throughout the day. At the end of it they had captured large stockpiles of weapons, killed many of the enemy for few losses of their own. It was a great victory and Schwarzkopf was happy but Truong sat to the side emotionless smoking his cigarettes. He had been fighting the communists a long time.

Troung a Buddhist was put in charge of quelling demonstrations by Buddhists protesting military control of the government. He was not comfortable with his job but he carried it out professionally and was permanently given command of 1st Infantry Division. A poor unit before his command of it other noted American generals of the Vietnam war referred to his division as equal to any American unit.

Unlike some South Vietnamese generals who had grown rich as they ascended the ranks, Truong was impeccably honest and, according to a close friend, led a “spartan and ascetic” life. Lieutenant General Cushman recalled that the general didn’t own a suit, and that his wife kept pigs behind his modest quarters in the military compound in Can Tho. As Cushman further described Truong, “He was imaginative and always looked for ways to improve his troops’ living conditions and family life.”

A humble man, Truong was an unselfish individual devoted to his profession. He was fiercely loyal to his subordinates, and was known for taking care of his soldiers, often flying through heavy fire to stand with them in the rain and mud during enemy attacks. He treated everyone the same and did not play favorites. There is a story that he refused to respond to a request to give his nephew a noncombat assignment, only to have the nephew later die in battle.

During the Tet Offensive of 1968, General Truong commanded the 1st Division during some of the war’s bloodiest fighting in Hue. Two nights before the offensive began, Truong, at his head-quarters in the old Imperial capital, sensed something amiss and put his troops on alert. When the night passed uneventfully, he dismissed his advisers but kept his troops ready.

His Hac Bao reaction company managed to hold his division headquarters compound and from there he directed the battle calling for reinforcements and directing them where to strike. Together, the U.S Marines and South Vietnamese soldiers and marines fought house to house to force the enemy out of the area. As usual, Truong had performed magnificently, directing his troops in a calm but charismatic fashion. Lieutenant General Cushman, who became his close friend after working with him, described Truong’s performance during the battle: “He survived with the enemy all around him. They never took his command post, but they took the rest of the Citadel.”

His greatest achievement ultimately occurred in 1972 during the Easter Offensive. The North Vietnamese launched an attacking force of 14 infantry divisions, 26 separate regiments, 1,200 troops and more than 120,000 troops. They succeeded in taking their goal of Quang Tri the first provincial capital to fall and pushed farther south.

Realising what was at stake General Truong was ordered to take command of I Corps by President Nguyen Van Thieu. Arriving in the area his mere presence gave new hope to the South Vietnamese troops. He devised a comprehensive defence in depth to halt the North Vietnamese Army‘s advance which would buy him time as he retrained South Vietnamese units that had been battered during the retreat and re-equipped them with new American gear using an accelerated training pro-gram. Launching a counter offensive in May with 3 divisions and US airpower and naval shelling Troung defended South Vietnam from invasion. It was a deliberate and slow process, but Truong’s forces routed six NVA divisions to retake Quang Tri on September 16.

Sadly it was not to be so again three years later. The North Vietnamese returned and defences in the Central Highlands collapsed. Truong was ordered to defend Hue and set about doing it but then a week followed of debate and accusations conflicting orders followed. Truong was ordered to abandon Hue until at the last minute this was countermanded. Because of conflicting orders, lack of preparation and collapse of morale the withdrawal from Hue became a disaster. Reaching Da Nang Truong tried to direct an evacuation by sea but panic had set in.

As Da Nang fell, he and his corps staff swam through the surf to the rescuing fleet of South Vietnamese boats. Truong was devastated by the loss of his forces, particularly his beloved ARVN 1st Division. Upon arriving in Saigon, he was reportedly hospitalized for a nervous breakdown. A U.S. Army officer who had worked closely with Truong heard what happened, tracked him down and arranged for his family to leave on an American ship as Saigon fell to the Communists. The family was split for some time before being all tracked down in America and reunited. After reuniting, Truong and his family moved to Falls Church, Va.

Many Australian and American troops came from the war in Vietnam which was known as the first war our countries had lost. Not necessarily accurate but it was hard thing to deal with for some of our troops. The one thing we did not have to deal with that Truong like so many of his fellow South Vietnamese soldiers had to was that they could not go home. They had not just been on the losing side of a war that they had fought for so long and given up so much for but they had also lost their countries, their homes. True to his character though Truong got on with living a good life in his adopted country. Once settled there, he wrote several historical studies on the Vietnam War for the U.S. Army Centre of Military History. In 1983, the same year that he became a U.S. citizen, he moved to Springfield, Va. He worked as a computer analyst for the Association of American Railroads for 10 years until he retired in 1994. He died due to cancer in 2007. Shortly after his death, the Virginia Legislature passed a Joint Resolution “Celebrating the Life of Ngo Quang Truong.”

Schwarzkopf wrote of him “He did not look like my idea of a military genius: only five feet seven…very skinny, with hunched shoulders and a head that seemed too big for his body….His face was pinched and intense…and there was always a cigarette hanging from his lips. Yet he was revered by his officers and troops—and feared by those North Vietnamese commanders who knew of his ability.”

-Lloyd Marken

CAPTAIN REG SAUNDERS OF THE AUSTRALIAN ARMY

Two decades before he was recognised as a citizen of his country he fought for it in two wars. He couldn’t vote in his own country where his people had been for thousands of years. This was nothing new. His father Walter (Chris) Saunders and uncle William Reginald Rawlings MM had done so before him in the Great War, the uncle not returning home. His family would continue to pay a cost for serving the nation. His brother Harry Saunders would die at Kokoda and his first marriage would not withstand his time away in Korea. What did change was that he became the first Aboriginal to be commissioned into the Australian Army going on to command 100 men in combat.

He was born in Victoria of the Gunditjmara people and worked in a sawmill from a young age. In 1940 he joined the Australian Imperial Force immediately displaying natural leadership skill, in 6 weeks he was promoted to Lance Corporal and within 3 months he had made Sergeant. He was posted to the 2/7th Battalion after training where his rank reverted to Private and he went to Benghazi and then the island of Crete. The 2/7th took part in the fighting around Canae and temporarily checked the German advance with a bayonet charge on 42nd street. As the Allies evacuated, Saunders’ unit fought rearguard actions and were left behind. Most were taken prisoner, a few hid out in the hills and caves of the islands relying on help from the locals. Saunders was one who evaded capture for 12 months and managed to escape rejoining the 2/7th.

He next fought in the Salamaua-Lae campaing where as a platoon sergeant he took command of the platoon when the platoon commander was wounded. Subsequently his commanding officer recommended that he receive a commission. This caused the Army some trepidation given “its special significance” but Saunders  completed sixteen weeks of training back in Australia and received his commission. During training he shared a tent with Victoria Cross winner Tom Derrick.

He returned to New Guinea and was a platoon commander during the Aitape-Wewak campaign with the 2/7th serving until the end of the war. He was hospitalised for 3 weeks after being wounded by Japanese gunfire at Maprik.

Rejected for service with the British Commonwealth Occupation Force (BCOF) in Japan, he was a shipping clerk and builder’s labourer following the war. With the outbreak of hostilities in Korea he rejoined the Army and was allocated to 3RAR rising to the lofty heights of Captain. He commanded C Company during the Battle of Kapyong April 22nd to April 25 (ANZAC Day) 1951. At Kapyong, a Brigade of United Nations Force stalled the advance of a whole Chinese division pivotally avoiding a breakthrough on the UN’s Command Central Front. 3RAR was subsequently awarded a US Presidential Unit Citation for their actions.

He oversaw training for national servicemen after returning from Korea but he left the Army in 1954 going to work first in the logging industry and then for the next decade in the Austral Bronze company. Saunders also became involved in the Returned and Services League. In 1967 be became an Aboriginal Liaison Officer in the Office of Aboriginal Affairs. In the Queen’s Birthday Honours of June 1971 his community work was recognised when he was appointed Member of the Order of the British Empire (Civil Division). He passed away in 1990 leaving behind 8 of his 10 children. Two had sadly predeceased him.

He was the first Aboriginal serviceman to command a Rifle Company, and was respected and popular with his men. His biographer and friend, Harry Gordon, an Australian journalist in Korea, wrote of him “He was accepted unreservedly by the men who served with him because false values do not flourish among front-line soldiers.”

-Lloyd Marken

IN THE KORENGAL VALLEY ON THE 25th OF OCTOBER 2007

You don’t understand…but what you did was pretty crazy. We were outnumbered. You stopped the fight. You stopped them from taking a soldier.“” Squad leader Erick Gallardo to Staff Sergeant Salvatore Giunta.

Salvatore Giunta was born in the state of Iowa in 1985. At age 17 while working at a Subway store he saw a commercial where Army recruiters were giving away free T-shirts at the local mall. He had always been a sucker for a free T-shirt. He was enlisted in November 2003 serving two tours in Afghanistan. Giunta was Airborne. His unit the 173rd Airborne Brigade Combat Team.

The first deployment from March 2005 to March 2006 left a mark on him. “It’s one thing to see someone dead. But it’s another thing to see an American soldier, or someone you know. They’re at their strongest moments of their life and it is just… gone from them.” he said of an IED attack 21AUG2005 that killed four and seriously wounded another.

On September 1, 2005, Lieutenant [Derek Haines] died in the Baylough area, and that made me really feel my own mortality at 19 or 20. My team leader, Nicholas Post, talked to me. He said, “It is what it is and you just got to try to do everything you can when it’s your time to do it. It might be you tomorrow. It might be me tomorrow. It might be, you know, all of us tomorrow. But that’s tomorrow.” I’ve pretty much taken that with me the rest of my life from the time we had that talk.” Staff Sgt Giunta.

His second deployment from May 2007 to July 2008 was to the Korengal Valley which has seen some of the most fierce fighting of the war.

During Operation Rock Avalanche on 25OCT2007 Giunta’s 1st Platoon was assigned overwatch of 2nd and 3rd Platoon as they went through a valley below. Following sunset 1st Platoon moved to head back to base and within going 100m they were ambushed by an enemy force firing AK-47s, RPGs and PKM machine guns. Sgt Joshua Brennan was walking point followed by SPC Frank Eckrode, squad leader Erick Gallardo, rifle team leader Giunta and Privates First Class Kaleb Casey and PFC Garret Clary. Not far behind them was a HQ Unit.

When the Taliban opened fire Brennan was struck by eight rounds and Eckrode was hit by 4. The wall of fire coming from the enemy halted Gallardo’s attempts to move forward and then he was struck in the head and fell. Giunta ran over to him fearing the worst but fortunately it had struck the squad leader’s helmet. While they found cover Giunta was struck in the front of his vest and a round hit his SMAW slung over his back making them realise they were facing an L-shaped ambush. Giunta ordered Clary and Casey to pull back a few steps to prevent the enemy flanking them. It was now roughly 15 seconds into the engagement when Giunta, Casey, Clary and Gallardo alternated throwing fragmentation grenades to their west while moving north. They reached Eckrode who was wounded and attempting to unjam his weapon having continued to fire since being hit. Gallardo dressed Eckrode’s wounds and called for a MEDEVAC.

Giunta followed by Clary continued on to look for Brennan. It was then that Giunta saw two Taliban carrying away Sgt Brennan in the distance. Giunta gave chase engaging them with his own weapon. He shot dead one and the other fled. Giunta got to Brennan and pulled him towards the squad and cover and then went to treating him. Brennan was grievously hurt and 1st Platoon’s medic Specialist Hugo Mendoza had been shot in the leg in his femoral artery and had bled to death. While Clary stood guard, Gallardo had come running and he and Giunta found a slight dip where they could protect Brennan. The fighting continued around them as they went to work on Brennan. He was covered with gun shot and shrapnel wounds, with the worst being injuries to his face. He couldn’t breathe. They went through all of their first aid kits cutting apart their own clothing to stop the bleeding. 2nd and 3rd platoon arrived with their medics. Brennan was given a tracheotomy on the spot buying enough time for the medevac chopper and giving them all hope. Brennan was breathing and talking. “Dude, this time you’re really going to go home. You’re going to be drinking beers and telling your stories to the ladies.” Guinta told Brennan and he agreed ” Yeah. Yeah, I will.” Sergeant Joshua Brennan was one of Giunta’s best friends. Later that day he died while in surgery.

“They were better soldiers than me. That’s part of what gets me so much. I was with Brennan for the deployment before and he’s always been a better soldier than me. He was Alpha team leader. I was Bravo team leader. There’s a reason for that. Spc. Mendoza was a combat medic. He did everything we did, plus when we came back dehydrated, “Oh I’m this, oh I’m that, I have this blister Doc,’ he would fix it. He went above and beyond every single day.” Giunta has said of the two men who died that day.

He called his girlfriend Jennifer Lynn Mueller and his mother Rose as soon as he could for the distraction but he couldn’t tell them the details. Both knew from his voice that something terrible had happened and Jennifer had heard basics from another spouse. Even now most of what they have heard come from media reports.

16NOV2010 Specialist Salvatore A. Giunta was awarded at the White House the Congressional Medal of Honour. He was the first living recipient since the Vietnam War following 9 posthumous awards in that time. “It’s bittersweet for us,” said Salvatore’s father Steve Giunta. “We’re very proud of Sal. We can’t mention that enough, but in this event, two other soldiers were killed and that weighs heavy on us. You get very happy and very proud and then you start dealing with the loss as well. You can’t have one without the other.

“I have never gone to war alone,” Guinta has commented. ” I have never been in a fire fight alone and I’ve never felt alone in the Army. There were lots of other guys who did incredible stuff. The only reason I was able to do what I did is because they were doing everything they could do. They make it sound like so much of the bullets were focused on me. No. Bullets don’t discriminate. They were on every single man who was there. And now, you’re going to put a medal around my neck and shake my hand and congratulate me, and everyone’s going to be proud of me’ And I didn’t do anything other than what I was supposed to’ And I know two men who personally gave every single tomorrow they’ll every have.”. In June 2011 Giunta who had been stop lossed previously chose not to re-enlist and left the Army. Having married his girlfriend Jennifer in OCT2009 they had their first child, a daughter, born October 6, 2011. He and his wife moved to Colorado where he is a student at Colorado State University. Eckrode said of Guinta, “For all intents and purposes, with the amount of fire that was going on in the conflict at the time, he shouldn’t be alive.”

-Lloyd Marken

 

 

Specialist Hugo Mendoza, 173rd Airborne, died 25 October 2007 in the Korengal Valley. He was 29.

Sgt Joshua Brennan ,173rd Airborne, died 26th October 2007 in Asadabad, Afghanistan. He was 22.

They were two of 75 serving members of the 173rd Airborne Brigade who died serving in Afghanistan.

Lest We Forget.

 

Bibliography: http://www.vanityfair.com/news/2010/11/medal-of-honor-winner-salvatore-giunta-on-bravery-brotherhood-and-the-korengal

http://www.nbcnews.com/id/39103540/ns/us_news-life/t/first-medal-honor-living-afghan-war-vet/

http://www.army.mil/article/48119/reluctant-hero-becomes-first-living-moh-recipient-since-vietnam/

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Salvatore_Giunta