Medal of Honor recipient Sal Giunta (file photo)

A decorated war hero returned to his hometown high school in eastern Iowa Tuesday night to award a student with a special scholarship.

Hiawatha native and Medal of Honor recipient Salvatore Giunta graduated from Cedar Rapids Kennedy High School in 2003.

“There are quite a few authority figures who are still floating around the building who were authority figures for me too, so I minding my p’s and q’s,” Giunta joked. In 2010, President Obama presented Giunta with the nation’s highest military decoration.

Giunta was the first living American to receive the Medal of Honor for service in Iraq or Afghanistan. Hundreds of parents, students and veterans cheered as Giunta presented Kennedy senior Abi Gray with the inaugural $1,000 Sal Giunta Scholarship.

While the scholarship bears his name, Giunta said it will also honor the memories of two of his friends and comrades killed in Afghanistan, Sergeant Josh Brennan and Specialist Hugo Mendoza. Every year, a Kennedy senior with plans for military, public or community service will win the scholarship, awarded through the Brian LaViolette Scholarship Foundation.

“It will give an opportunity, give a chance, give a helping hand to someone who not only wants it, but will use it and not just take a free ride, but use it to fling themselves into bigger and better things…is a great thing,” Giunta said. That’s exactly what Abi Gray plans to do.

“I just really want to make a difference in as many people’s lives as possible,” Gray said. “I really hope I can make that happen.” Abi Gray has an internship this summer at Rockwell Collins. She’s been accepted to Iowa State and plans to go into aerial engineering. Giunta, who now lives in Colorado, asked Gray to keep in touch with him about her plans for the future.

By Jillian Petrus, KCRG-TV, Cedar Rapids