An institution at the Disneyland Resort, the lowering of the U.S. flag takes place each evening in the Town Square of Disneyland. Unlike its sister ceremony at the Walt Disney World Resort’s Magic Kingdom, however, the ceremony rarely honors individuals who have performed service in the country’s military.
Yesterday evening, that rare and distinct honor went to U.S. Army Staff Sgt. Salvatore Giunta who was recently awarded the Congressional Medal of Honor, the highest service award possible to a member of the United States military, by President Barack Obama.
In 2007, then specialist Giunta was involved in a mission with his squad in Afghanistan when they were ambushed and immediately took on excessive enemy fire. Upon seeing his team leader falling, Giunta rushed to his team leader’s aid, offering him cover while administering first aid. Still in the line of fire, Giunta was struck twice, once in his body armor and once in his secondary weapon. Subsequently, when Giunta became aware that one of his team was unaccounted for, he spotted his fellow injured serviceman being carried away by two insurgents. Giunta immediately attacked the insurgents, killing one and injuring the other, who ran off. Giunta then spent the next half hour administering first aid to his fallen comrade until a MEDEVAC became available.
For his service, and for performing ‘conspicuously, by gallantry and intrepidity, at the risk of his life, above and beyond the call of duty,’ Giunta was award the military’s highest honor. Because of its very nature, the medal is most often awarded posthumously, making the occasion all that much more special. Giunta is the first living recipient of the award for conduct in any battle since the Vietnam War.
Giunta was joined and honored with fellow serviceman, Staff Sgt. Erick Gallardo, who served with Giunta in the same battle and received the Silver Star. They and their wives were first honored in a processional down Main Street, USA before arriving in front of the train station for the ceremony.
After being led in the pledge of allegiance by the Dapper Dans barbershop quartet, Giunta and Gallardo were commended by Disneyland Resort President George Kalogridis and Disney Parks and Resorts Chairman Tom Staggs who awarded the heroes with a saluting Mickey Mouse statuette to commemorate the event. In a brief speech, Giunta proudly accepted the honor on behalf of all those who served.
Following the traditional flag lowering ceremony, accompanied by the Disneyland Marching Band and Dapper Dans, Giunta was presented with the flag of the United States that had flown at Disneyland that day. The ceremony came to a close with the Dapper Dans leading the attended crowd in God Bless America.
The flag is currently being flown at half-mast at both the Disneyland and Walt Disney World Resorts in honor of the victims of the recent Arizona shootings.
Below is our photo gallery from the event. All photos by Kelly Noble for Stitch Kingdom.