Medal of Honor

From Academic Kids

This article is about the military award; for the computer game, see Medal of Honor (computer game).

The Medal of Honor is the highest military decoration awarded by the United States. It is awarded "for conspicuous gallantry and intrepidity at the risk of life, above and beyond the call of duty, in actual combat against an armed enemy force." Since it was first awarded during the Civil War, the medal has been awarded 3,460 times, most recently in 2005. All branches of the United States military are eligible to receive the medal, though each branch has a special design. The Medal of Honor is presented by the President of the United States, who is also the Commander-in-Chief of the US Armed Forces, on behalf of the American people. Several past actions have been elevated to the Medal of Honor based on new evidence or righting old wrongs by the President or by actions of Congress.

Three different United States Medals of Honor currently exist, one each for the Army, Navy, and Air Force.
Three different United States Medals of Honor currently exist, one each for the Army, Navy, and Air Force.

Versions of the medal

There are versions of the medal for each of major branches of the U.S. armed forces: the Army, Navy and Air Force. Since the US Marine Corps is administratively a part of the Department of the Navy, Marines receive the Navy medal. Though a Coast Guard version exists, it has never been issued. In the single case of a Coast Guard servicemember, Signalman 1st Class Douglas Munro, receiving the Medal of Honor, the Navy version was awarded.

Awarding the medal

There are two distinct means of being approved for the Medal of Honor. The first and most common is nomination by a service member in the chain of command followed by approval at each level of command. The other method is nomination by a member of Congress (generally at the request of a constituent) and approval by a special Act. In either case, the Medal of Honor is presented by the President on behalf of Congress.

The Army Medal of Honor was first awarded during the American Civil War and was last officially awarded on April 4, 2005 (posthumously) to Sergeant First Class Paul R. Smith for actions that occurred outside of Baghdad, Iraq in 2003. Template:Ref

The criteria for the award became more strict after World War I. In all, 3,459 Medals of Honor have been awarded. Since the beginning of World War II only 851 have been awarded, 525 of them posthumously.

The rare soldier who wears the Medal of Honor is accorded special privileges that include higher pay, preference for their children at the U.S. military academies, and the respect and admiration of all other service persons. It is an informal rule that Medal of Honor recipients, regardless of rank, are saluted by all other service members, including the Commander-in-Chief.

Medal of Honor Flag

Missing image
Medal of Honor Flag

The Medal of Honor Flag is given to recipients of the Medal of Honor. The awarding of the flag to future Medal of Honor recipients was approved by both houses of Congress, and by President George W. Bush in October 2002.

The idea of a flag was initiated by Bill Kendall of Jefferson, Iowa, in honor of Medal of Honor recepient Darrell Lindsey, also of Jefferson, who died in action during World War II. The actual flag was designed by Sarah LeClerc, of the the Institute of Heraldry.

The flag has a sky blue background with gold fringe. Thirteen white five-pointed stars are arranged as on the current ribbon of the Medal of Honor, in six rows of 1, 2, 3, 2, 3 and 2. The flag has no set proportions.

The first Medal of Honor recepient to receieve the flag was Paul R. Smith. The flag was cased and it was presented to his family, along with his Medal of Honor.

Congressional Medal of Honor

Although all Medals of Honor are sometimes called by the name "Congressional Medal of Honor," standard military practice is to refer to them simply as the "Medal of Honor" (all references in the U.S. Code refer to it as such, as do the individual military services). In U.S. Code Template:UnitedStatesCode, only the ordinance establishing penalties for misuse calls it the "Congressional Medal of Honor." Congress authorized a "Congressional Medal of Honor Society," while the museum is called the "National Medal of Honor Memorial."

Most Medals of Honor have been awarded by the chain of command. However, Congress has occasionally bypassed this process, passing special bills that the President subsequently signs into law, mandating an award of the Medal of Honor to a specific soldier or soldiers. This is the origin of the "Congressional Medal of Honor" term. This process has been followed to award the medal to United States unknown soldiers entombed in the Tomb of the Unknowns at Arlington National Cemetery from World War II and the Korean War. It was also awarded to World War I unknown soldiers of Britain, France, Italy, and Romania. This process most recently occurred when Congress passed legislation mandating the award to Humbert R. Versace, Jon E. Swanson, and Ben L. Salomon as part of the National Defense Authorization Act for Fiscal Year 2002. This became Public Law 107-107, which was signed on December 28, 2001.

Authority and privileges

Early Army version of the Medal of Honor
Early Army version of the Medal of Honor

The U.S. Army Medal of Honor was first authorized by joint resolution of Congress on July 12, 1862. The specific authorizing ordinance is found in U.S. Code, Title 10, Subtitle B, Part II, Chapter 357, Section 3741:

The President may award, and present in the name of Congress, a medal of honor of appropriate design, with ribbons and appurtenances, to a person who while a member of the Army, distinguished himself conspicuously by gallantry and intrepidity at the risk of his life above and beyond the call of duty.

Later authorizations created similar medals for other branches of the service.

The Medal of Honor confers special privileges on its recipients both by tradition and by law. By tradition, all other soldiers, sailors, and airmen, even higher-ranking officers, initiate the salute. By law, awardees have several benefits:

  • Each Medal of Honor awardee may have his name entered on the Medal of Honor Roll (Template:UnitedStatesCode). Each person whose name is placed on the Medal of Honor Roll is certified to the Department of Veterans Affairs as being entitled to receive the special pension of $1,027 per month. As of December 1, 2004, the pension is subject to cost of living increases.
  • Enlisted recipients of the Medal of Honor are entitled to a supplemental uniform allowance.
  • Recipients receive special entitlements to air transportation under the provisions of DOD Regulation 4515.13-R.
  • Special identification cards and commissary and exchange privileges are provided for Medal of Honor recipients and their eligible dependents.
  • Children of recipients are eligible for admission to the United States military academies without regard to the quota requirements.
  • Recipients get a ten percent increase in retired pay under 10 U.S.C. § 3991, subject to the 75% limit on total retired pay.
  • Those awarded the Medal after October 23, 2002 also receive a Medal of Honor Flag (Template:UnitedStatesCode).

Evolution of awarding criteria

Public Resolution 82, containing a provision for a Navy medal of valor, was signed into law by President Abraham Lincoln on December 21, 1861. One year later, a similar resolution for the Army was created. The medal was first awarded to six Union soldiers who hijacked the General, a Confederate locomotive. Raid leader James J. Andrews, a civilian hanged as a Union spy, did not get the medal because it was originally given only to enlisted men. Army officers first received them in 1891 and Naval officers in 1915. Many Medals of Honor awarded in the 19th century were associated with saving the flag, not just for patriotic reasons, but because the flag was a primary means of battlefield communication.

During the Civil War, Secretary of War Edwin M. Stanton was in a bind for troops. He promised a Medal of Honor to every man in the 27th Regiment, Maine Infantry who extended his enlistment beyond the agreed upon date. Many stayed an extra four days and then were discharged. Due to confusion, Stanton awarded a Medal of Honor to every man in the regiment, in all 864 different members.

In 1916, a law was passed calling for a board of five Army generals to review every Army Medal of Honor awarded. The commission, led by Nelson Miles, recommended that the Army rescind 911 medals. This included 864 medals awarded to members of the 27th Maine, 29 who served as Abraham Lincoln's funeral guard, 6 civilians (including Dr. Mary Edwards Walker, the only woman to ever be awarded the medal, and Buffalo Bill Cody), and 12 others whose awards were judged frivolous.

The Tiffany Cross
The Tiffany Cross

The Navy, early in the 20th century, awarded many medals of honor for peacetime bravery. For instance, seven medals were awarded to sailors aboard the USS Iowa when a boiler exploded on January 25, 1904. Aboard the USS Chicago in 1901, John Henry Helms was awarded the medal for saving Ishi Tomizi, the ship's cook, from drowning. Even after World War I, the medal was awarded to Richard Byrd and Floyd Bennett for exploration of the North Pole. Thomas John Ryan received it for saving a woman from the burning Grand Hotel in Yokohama, Japan following the 1923 Great Kanto earthquake.

Between 1919 and 1942, the Navy issued two separate versions of the Medal of Honor, one for peacetime bravery and the other for combat actions against the enemy force. The peacetime Medal of Honor was known as the "Tiffany Cross", after the company which manufactured the medal. The Tiffany Cross was first issued in 1919 and was highly rare and also unpopular. As a result, the United States Navy reverted to a single Medal of Honor, awarded only for heroism, in 1942.

Since the beginning of World War II, the medal has only been awarded for extreme bravery above and beyond the call of duty, where a servicemember consistently and persistently put his comrades' safety foremost, to the utter disregard of his own life, while engaged in action against an enemy. It is often, although not always, awarded posthumously.

Before the posthumous awarding of the Medal of Honor in 2005 to Paul R. Smith, the medal was last awarded during the Battle of Mogadishu in 1993, when MSG Gary Gordon and SFC Randy Shughart lost their lives defending downed Black Hawk helicopter pilot CWO Michael Durant. In all, only 3 Medals of Honor have been awarded since the Vietnam War. There have been various times after the Vietnam War where past heroism was recognized and previous awards have been upgraded to the Medal of Honor.


Early Army versions of the Medal of Honor.
Early Army versions of the Medal of Honor.

The Medal of Honor has evolved in appearance since its creation in 1862. The present day Army medal consists of a gold star surrounded by a wreath, topped by an eagle on a bar inscribed with the word "Valor." The medal is attached to a thick blue ribbon, which is then worn around the neck.

Early Navy versions of the Medal of Honor
Early Navy versions of the Medal of Honor

The United States Navy and United States Air Force have different designs; United States Marines receive the Navy's version of the Medal of Honor.

The Air Force Medal of Honor is the only one of the service MOHs which remains unchanged in appearance since its conception, in 1965.

The Coast Guard Medal of Honor, which was distinguished from the Navy medal in 1963, has never been awarded. No design yet exists for it. It is considered a conjectural decoration by the Institute of Heraldry.

Only one member of the Coast Guard has ever received a Medal of Honor, Douglas Munro, who was awarded the Navy version of the medal for action at the battle of Guadalcanal.

In the rare cases (19 so far) where a service member has earned more than one Medal of Honor, regulations specify that an appropriate award device will be centered on the MOH ribbon and neck medal. The U.S. Army and Air Force bestow oak leaf clusters while the Navy Medal of Honor is worn with gold award stars to indicate multiple presentations of the Medal of Honor.

Missing image

Missing image

On a ribbon bar, the Medal of Honor ribbon is the first ribbon placed on the bar (top left when seen on the uniform). The ribbon bar's design is the same blue as the neck ribbon, and it includes five white stars, pointed upwards, in the shape of an "M." For civilian wear, a rosette is issued instead of a miniature lapel pin (which usually shows the ribbon bar). The rosette is the same blue as the neck ribbon and it also includes white stars. The ribbon bar and rosette are presented at the same time as the neck ribbon. On special occasions, the medal itself can be worn on civilian attire.

Legal protection

The Medal of Honor is the only service decoration that cannot be privately bought, traded, or sold. All Medals of Honor are issued in the original only, by the Department of Defense, to a recipient.

After the Army redesigned their medal in 1903, a patent was issued (United States Patent #D37,236) to legally prevent others from making the medal. When the patent expired, the Federal government enacted a law making it illegal to produce, wear, or distribute the Medal of Honor without proper authority.

Violators of this law have been prosecuted. In 2003, two persons, Edward and Gisela Fedora, were charged with violating 18 U.S.C. § 704 - Unlawful Sale of a Medal of Honor. They sold medals awarded to US Navy Seaman Robert Blume (for action during the Spanish-American War) and to US Army First Sergeant George Washington Roosevelt (for action during the Civil War) to an FBI agent.

Although it is illegal to wear the Medal of Honor without authorization, it is not illegal to claim to be a recipient, unless such a claim is made with the intent of securing veteran benefits. A large number of veteran organizations and private companies devote themselves to exposing those who falsely claim entitlement to the Medal of Honor.

Medals of Honor statistics

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A statue in Louisville, Kentucky honors the Kentuckians who have received the Medal of Honor.

A total of 3,460 medals have been awarded to 3,409 different people. Nineteen men received a second award: fourteen of these men received two separate Medals for two separate actions; five received both the Navy and the Army Medals of Honor for the same action. Since the beginning of World War II, 851 medals of honor have been awarded, 525 posthumously. In total, 615 had their Medals presented posthumously.

The only female Medal of Honor awardee was Mary Edwards Walker, a Civil War surgeon. Her medal was rescinded in 1917 along with many other non-combat awards. It was restored by President Jimmy Carter in 1977.

The process for military awards was beset by racial discrimination. A 1992 study commissioned by the Army described systematic racial discrimination in the criteria for awarding medals during World War II. At the time, no Medals of Honor had been awarded to black soldiers who served in World War II. After an exhaustive review of files the study recommended that several black Distinguished Service Cross recipients be upgraded to the Medal of Honor. On January 13, 1997, President Bill Clinton awarded the medal to seven African American World War II veterans. A similar study of Asian Americans in 1998 resulted in President Clinton awarding 21 new Medals of Honor in 2000. One of the recipients was Senator Daniel Inouye.

By conflict

Conflict Awards
Civil War 1522  
Indian Wars 426  
Korean Expedition 15  
Spanish-American War 110  
Samoan Civil War 4  
Philippine-American War 86  
Boxer Rebellion 59  
Mexican Expedition 56  
Invasion of Haiti 8  
Occupation of the Dominican Republic 3  
World War I 124  
Occupation of Nicaragua 2  
World War II 464  
Korean War 131  
Vietnam War 245  
Battle of Mogadishu 2  
Iraq War 1  
Peacetime 193  
Unknowns 9  

By branch of service

Service Awards
Air Force17  
Coast Guard1  

Similar decorations

United States

The following United States decorations bear similar names to the Medal of Honor, but are considered separate awards with different criteria for issuance.

Several United States law enforcement decorations also bear the name "Medal of Honor".

The highest civilian honor is the Presidential Medal of Freedom, which is the civilian equivalent of the Medal of Honor. There is also a Public Safety Officer Medal of Valor

Foreign awards

The following countries have high military awards similar to the Medal of Honor:

Obsolete awards

The following obsolete military decorations were similar to the Medal of Honor

Related articles


  1. Template:Note Paul Smith's Medal of Honor Citation:

External Links

fr:Medal of Honor he:מדליית הכבוד (ארצות הברית) ja:名誉勲章 pl:Medal Honoru


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