The Unknown Soldiers – An American Friend

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

I have been in awe of the humility displayed by Giunta in every interview he’s given since it became known that he would receive the nation’s highest military award. On the day he was presented the Medal of Honor by President Obama at the White House, it was clear that Giunta is in 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, Ore., 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. 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 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.

Brennan was shot in the leg in August 2007, but healed, 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.

Brennan, known as “Chuck” by some of his closest Army friends, died on Oct. 26, 2007, in Asadabad, Afghanistan, of wounds he sustained during the previous day’s ambush, which also killed Mendoza. Were it not for 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.

When Giunta’s heroism was recognized by the president of the United States, Mendoza’s and Brennan’s names echoed 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,” Brennan’s mother posted to the Facebook memorial group on Nov. 12.

Staff Sgt. Erick Gallardo, who was awarded the Silver Star, was Brennan’s squad leader. During the “60 Minutes” interview, when he and Giunta recounted that fall 2007 day’s tragic moments, Gallardo said something that will forever comfort the family of 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.”

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Chuck Briese, Oak Ridge Now

[avatar user="cbriese" size="thumbnail" align="left"] Chuck Briese has been a resident of South Montgomery County since 1988. He and his lovely and patient wife, Leslie, have six sons, with only one left to finish high school. Chuck has been a Cub Scout leader, a Little League baseball coach, a church youth leader, and a general troublemaker over the course of the past 25 years. He is obsessed with his lawn, and likes restaurants that serve food that fills up the plate. He has a tendency to tilt at windmills, which may explain why he started Oak Ridge Now.

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