Image courtesy: Pfc. David Hauk, U.S. Army. Kandahar, Afghanistan, November 12, 2009

Tuesday, November 16, 2010

An American friend

"I have never given everything," Medal of Honor recipient Staff Sgt. Salvatore Giunta told 60 Minutes in an interview that aired on November 14. "Sgt. Joshua Brennan gave everything."

I have been in awe of the humility displayed by Staff Sgt. Giunta in every interview he's given since it became known that he would receive the nation's highest military award. On this day, when he will be presented the Medal of Honor by President Obama at the White House, it is clear that Giunta is awe of the soldiers he served with, especially fellow warrior Spc. Hugo Mendoza and his dear friend, Sgt. Joshua Brennan.

Joshua Charles Brennan was born on May 30, 1985 in El Paso, Texas. For most of his childhood, according to an article in The Capital Times, Brennan lived with his mom in Oregon during the school year, then headed to Wisconsin to spend the summer with his dad. Unlike me, a big brother who spent too much time teasing my younger brother and sister, Brennan was the model sibling. One of his five brothers and sisters, Jessica, wrote in a Facebook tribute group that her big brother was simply the best.

Not long after graduating high school in Ontario, Oregon, Brennan enlisted in the U.S. Army, training hard and earning his place in the storied 173rd Airborne Infantry Brigade Combat Team, perhaps best known for the incredible human price it paid at Dak To, Vietnam. Sgt. Brennan took that fighting spirit with him to Afghanistan on his first combat tour, for which he was awarded a Bronze Star for valor.

During his second tour, much of which took place in a northeastern Afghanistan valley so dangerous that brave, battle-tested American soldiers knew it was too risky to go to the bathroom during the day, Brennan forged an even closer bond with the troops around him. He was close friends with Staff Sgt. Giunta, who says that either of them, or any other soldier in the 2nd Battalion, 503rd Airborne Infantry Regiment, 173rd Airborne Brigade Combat Team, would instinctively put their lives on the line for one another.

Sgt. Brennan was shot in the leg in August 2007, but healed up, received his Purple Heart, and willed himself back out to the battlefield. That's the kind of selfless dedication, rightfully regarded as extraordinary back home, that was almost commonplace for this remarkable unit in the mountains of Afghanistan. For these volunteer warriors, it was simply what had to be done.

Sgt. Joshua Charles Brennan, known as "Chuck" by some of his closest Army friends, died on October 26, 2007, in Asadabad, Afghanistan, of wounds he sustained during the previous day's ambush, which also killed Spc. Hugo Mendoza. Were it not for Staff Sgt. Salvatore Giunta's bravery in seizing this wounded warrior from the Taliban's grasp, the soldier's family, fellow troops, and American citizens may have been forced to endure a horrific ordeal of painful uncertainty, deadly rescue operations, and possibly more Taliban propaganda videos.

For more on exactly what happened just over three years ago, from the President of the United States and the brave soldiers who were actually there, I urge you to watch today's White House ceremony, which begins at 1 p.m. eastern. The Unknown Soldiers will write about this important event as well. On this momentous day, when Staff Sgt. Giunta's heroism is recognized by America's top civilian and military leadership, Spc. Mendoza and Sgt. Brennan's names will echo through the halls of the White House. Yet it's at home, in the thoughts of loved ones, where the sounds of children who grew up to become American heroes are loudest.

"Joshua, you are missed every minute of every day, no matter what day it is by so many people who love you," Sgt. Brennan's mother posted to the Facebook memorial group on November 12.

Staff Sgt. Erick Gallardo, who was awarded the Silver Star, was Sgt. Joshua Brennan's squad leader. During the 60 Minutes interview, when he and Staff Sgt. Salvatore Giunta recounted that fall 2007 day's tragic moments, Staff Sgt. Gallardo said something that will forever comfort the family of Sgt. Brennan, who earned three Bronze Stars and two Purple Hearts during his illustrious career of service. Instead of spending his final moments with enemies of America and the world, he spent them with his friends.

"The last thing Brennan ever saw was us. He saw us fighting for him."


  1. God bless you Mama and brothers and sisters. "WE" will never forget your son and his sacrifices.

  2. Tom, What an excellent Blog about my Son. I am deeply moved by your style of writing and tribute paid to Sal, Josh, Hugo and all fallen heroes. Thank you from the proud mother of fallen Hero Sergeant Joshua Charles Brennan.

  3. Thank you very much for taking the time to leave this comment, and for raising such a wonderful man. Writing about your son, as well as Spc. Mendoza and Staff Sgt. Rougle, was a distinct honor. I will always remember the heroes of the Korengal Valley, an important American story of post-9/11 heroism that should be told for generations to come. My deepest condolences to you and your entire family.

  4. Great article Tom. It is a wonderful tribute to Josh, Hugo and all those who have given all.