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At Pentagon, Medal of Honor recipient inducted into Hall of Heroes

At a Pentagon ceremony Wednesday, Staff Sgt. Salvatore Giunta, freshly awarded the Medal of Honor for valor, joined a select group of service members inducted into the Hall of Heroes.

President Obama applauds after presenting the Medal of Honor to Staff Sgt. Salvatore Giunta, who rescued two members of his squad in October 2007 while fighting in the war in Afghanistan, on Nov. 16, at the White House in Washington.

J. Scott Applewhite/AP

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Staff Sgt. Salvatore Giunta was inducted Wednesday into what military officials refer to as the Pentagon’s most sacred place: its Hall of Heroes.

With that ceremony, Giunta joins an intimate fraternity and will for the rest of his life be accorded privileges that America reserves for only its most revered service members.

It was in a packed Pentagon auditorium that top officers from throughout the military gathered Wednesday to pay tribute to the only living Medal of Honor recipient in a decade's-worth of wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. Of the 389 Medals of Honor awarded since World War II, only about one-third of the recipients have been able to receive them in person. Giunta received the award from President Obama Tuesday.

While it is crucial to remember the fallen, the nation also needs living heroes, says Defense Secretary Robert Gates, quoting the historian to the Roman legion: “In valor there is hope.”

Secretary Gates acknowledged, too, that the Medal of Honor places a heavy burden on its recepients by making them "a symbol of this hope.”

It was an emotional ceremony, with soldiers standing at attention discreetly wiping away tears. Gen. George Casey made a couple of well-received jokes in a bid to lighten things up.

He observed that Giunta’s family was close and tight-knit, “and that’s just what you have to be to get through Pentagon security,” a reference to the tedious process that awaits visitors who must pass through the building’s metal detectors and sensor-activated gates.

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