The Medal of Honor is the United States of America's highest and most prestigious personal military decoration that may be awarded to recognize U.S. military service members who have distinguished themselves by acts of valor. The medal is normally awarded by the President of the United States in the name of the U.S. Congress. Because the medal is presented "in the name of Congress", it is often referred to informally as the "Congressional Medal of Honor". However, the official name of the current award is "Medal of Honor." Within the United States Code the medal is referred to as the "Medal of Honor", and less frequently as "Congressional Medal of Honor". U.S. awards, including the Medal of Honor, do not have post-nominal titles, and while there is no official abbreviation, the most common abbreviations are "MOH" and "MH".
There are three versions of the medal, one each for the Army, Navy, and Air Force. Personnel of the Marine Corps and Coast Guard receive the Navy version. The Medal of Honor was introduced for the Navy in 1861, soon followed by an Army version in 1862. The Medal of Honor is the oldest continuously issued combat decoration of the United States armed forces.
The President typically presents the Medal at a formal ceremony intended to represent the gratitude of the U.S. people, with posthumous presentations made to the primary next of kin. According to the Medal of Honor Historical Society of the United States, there have been 3,522 Medals of Honor awarded since the decoration's creation, with just less than half of them awarded for actions during the American Civil War.
In 1990, Congress designated March 25 annually as "National Medal of Honor Day". Due to its prestige and status, the Medal of Honor is afforded special protection under U.S. law against any unauthorized adornment, sale, or manufacture, which includes any associated ribbon or badge.
The first formal system for rewarding acts of individual gallantry by U.S. soldiers was established by George Washington when he issued a field order on August 7, 1782, for a Badge of Military Merit to recognize those members of the Continental Army who performed "any singular meritorious action". This decoration is America's first combat decoration and was preceded only by the Fidelity Medallion, the Congressional medal for Henry Lee awarded in September 1779 in recognition of his attack on the British at Paulus Hook, the Congressional medal for General Horatio Gates awarded in November 1777 in recognition of his victory over the British at Saratoga, and the Congressional medal for George Washington awarded in March 1776. Although the Badge of Military Merit fell into disuse after the American Revolutionary War, the concept of a military award for individual gallantry by members of the U.S. Armed Forces had been established.
After the outbreak of the Mexican–American War (1846–1848) a Certificate of Merit (Meritorious Service Citation Certificate) was established by Act of Congress on March 3, 1847, "to any private soldier who had distinguished himself by gallantry performed in the presence of the enemy". 539 Certificates were approved for this period. The certificate was discontinued after the war and reintroduced in 1876 effective from June 22, 1874, to February 10, 1892, when it was awarded for extraordinary gallantry by private soldiers in the presence of the enemy. From February 11, 1892, through July 9, 1918, (Certificate of Merit disestablished) it could be awarded to members of the Army for distinguished service in combat or noncombat; from January 11, 1905, through July 9, 1918, the certificate was granted medal status as the Certificate of Merit Medal (first awarded to a soldier who was awarded the Certificate of Merit for combat action on August 13, 1898). This medal was later replaced by the Army Distinguished Service Medal which was established on January 2, 1918, (the Navy Distinguished Service Medal was established in 1919). Those Army members who held the Distinguished Service Medal in place of the Certificate of Merit could apply for the Army Distinguished Service Cross (established 1918) effective March 5, 1934.
Medal of Honor
Medal of Honor (without the suspension ribbon) awarded to SeamanJohn Ortega in 1864 (back view of medal).
During the first year of the Civil War (1861–1865), a proposal for a battlefield decoration for valor was submitted to Winfield Scott, the general-in-chief of the army, by Lt. Colonel Edward D. Townsend, an assistant adjutant at the War Department and Scott's chief of staff. Scott, however, was strictly against medals being awarded, which was the European tradition. After Scott retired in October 1861, Secretary of the NavyGideon Welles adopted the idea of a decoration to recognize and honor distinguished naval service.
On February 15, 1862, Senator Henry Wilson, the chairman of the Senate Committee on Military Affairs and the Militia, introduced a resolution for a Medal of Honor for the Army. The resolution (37th Congress, Second Session; Resolution No. 52, 12 Stat. 623–624) was approved by Congress and signed into law on July 12, 1862 ("A Resolution to provide for the Presentation of "Medals of Honor" to the Enlisted Men of the Army and Volunteer Forces who have distinguished, or may distinguish, themselves in Battle during the present Rebellion"). This measure provided for awarding a medal of honor "to such non-commissioned officers and privates as shall most distinguish themselves by their gallantry in action and other soldier-like qualities during the present insurrection." During the war, Townsend would have some medals delivered to some recipients with a letter requesting acknowledgement of the "Medal of Honor". The letter written and signed by Townsend on behalf of the Secretary of War, stated that the resolution was "to provide for the presentation of medals of honor to the enlisted men of the army and volunteer forces who have distinguished or may distinguish themselves in battle during the present rebellion." By mid-November the War Department contracted with Philadelphia silversmith William Wilson and Son, who had been responsible for the Navy design, to prepare 2,000 Army medals ($2.00 each) to be cast at the mint. The Army version had "The Congress to" written on the back of the medal. Both versions were made of copper and coated with bronze, which "gave them a reddish tint".
1863: On March 3, Congress made the Medal of Honor a permanent decoration, and was authorized for officers of the Army On March 25, the Secretary of War presented the first Medals of Honor to six Union Army volunteers in his office.
1890: On April 23, the Medal of Honor Legion is established in Washington, D.C.
1896: The ribbon of the Army version of the Medal of Honor was redesigned with all stripes being vertical.
1915: On March 3, Navy, Marine Corps, and Coast Guard officers became eligible for the Medal of Honor.
1917: Based on the report of the Medal of Honor Review Board, established by Congress in 1916, 911 recipients were stricken off the Army's Medal of Honor list because the medal had been awarded inappropriately. Among them were Buffalo Bill and Mary Edwards Walker. Walker's medal was restored in 1977.
1963: A separate Coast Guard medal was authorized in 1963, but not yet designed or awarded.
1965: A separate design for a version of the medal for the U.S. Air Force was created in 1956, authorized in 1960, and officially adopted on April 14, 1965. Previously, members of the U.S. Air Force received the Army version of the medal.
There are three versions of the Medal of Honor, one for each of the military departments of the Department of Defense: Army, Navy, and Air Force. Members of the Marine Corps and Coast Guard are eligible to receive the Navy version. Each is constructed differently and the components are made from gilding metals and red brass alloys with some gold plating, enamel, and bronze pieces. The United States Congress considered a bill in 2004 which would require the Medal of Honor to be made with 90% gold, the same composition as the lesser-known Congressional Gold Medal, but the measure was dropped.
Army Medal of Honor
The Army version is described by the Institute of Heraldry as "a gold five pointed star, each point tipped with trefoils, 11⁄2 inches [3.8 cm] wide, surrounded by a green laurel wreath and suspended from a gold bar inscribed VALOR, surmounted by an eagle. In the center of the star, Minerva's head surrounded by the words UNITED STATES OF AMERICA. On each ray of the star is a green oak leaf. On the reverse is a bar engraved THE CONGRESS TO with a space for engraving the name of the recipient." The pendant and suspension bar are made of gilding metal, with the eye, jump rings, and suspension ring made of red brass. The finish on the pendant and suspension bar is hard enameled, gold plated, and rose gold plated, with polished highlights.
Navy Medal of Honor
The Navy version is described as "a five-pointed bronze star, tipped with trefoils containing a crown of laurel and oak. In the center is Minerva, personifying the United States, standing with left hand resting on fasces and right hand holding a shield blazoned with the shield from the coat of arms of the United States. She repulses Discord, represented by snakes (originally, she was repulsing the snakes of secession). The medal is suspended from the flukes of an anchor." It is made of solid red brass, oxidized and buffed.
Air Force Medal of Honor
Air Force version
The Air Force version is described as "within a wreath of green laurel, a gold five-pointed star, one point down, tipped with trefoils and each point containing a crown of laurel and oak on a green background. Centered on the star, an annulet of 34 stars is a representation of the head of the Statue of Liberty. The star is suspended from a bar inscribed with the word VALOR above an adaptation of the thunderbolt from the Air Force Coat of Arms." The pendant is made of gilding metal. The connecting bar, hinge, and pin are made of bronze. The finish on the pendant and suspension bar is hard enameled, gold plated, and rose gold plated, with buffed relief.
The Medal of Honor has evolved in appearance over time. The upside-down star design of the Navy version's pendant adopted in early 1862 has not changed since its inception. The Army 1862 version followed and was identical to the Navy version except an eagle perched atop cannons was used instead of an anchor to connect the pendant to the suspension ribbon. The metals featured a female allegory of the Union, with a shield in her right hand that she used to fend off a crouching attacker and serpents. In her left hand, she held a fasces. There are 34 stars surrounding the scene, representing the number of states in the union at the time. In 1896, the Army version changed the ribbon's design and colors due to misuse and imitation by nonmilitary organizations. In 1904, the Army "Gillespie" version introduced a smaller redesigned star and the ribbon was changed to the light blue pattern with white stars seen today. The 1904 Army version also introduced a bar with the word "Valor" above the star. In 1913, the Navy version adopted the same ribbon pattern.
After World War I, the Navy decided to separate the Medal of Honor into two versions, one for combat and one for non-combat. This was an attempt to circumvent the requirement enacted in 1919 that recipients participate "in action involving actual conflict with the enemy," which would have foreclosed non-combat awards. By treating the 1919 Medal of Honor as a separate award from its Civil War counterpart, this allowed the Navy to claim that it was not literally in violation of the 1919 law. The original upside-down star was designated as the non-combat version and a new pattern of the medal pendant, in cross form, was designed by the Tiffany Company in 1919. Navy Secretary Josephus Daniels selected Tiffany after snubbing the Commission of Fine Arts, which had submitted drawings that Daniels criticized as "un-American." The "Tiffany Cross" was to be presented to a sailor or marine who "in action involving actual conflict with the enemy, distinguish[es] himself conspicuously by gallantry and intrepidity at the risk of his life above and beyond the call of duty" Despite the "actual conflict" guidelines—the Tiffany Cross was awarded to Navy CDR (later RADM) Richard E. Byrd and Floyd Bennett for arctic exploration. The decision was controversial within the Navy's Bureau of Navigation, and officials considered asking the Attorney General of the United States for an advisory opinion on the matter. Byrd himself apparently disliked the "Tiffany Cross," and eventually requested the alternate version of the medal from President Herbert Hoover in 1930. The Tiffany Cross itself was not popular among recipients-- one author reflected that it was "the most short-lived, legally contentious, and unpopular version of the Medal of Honor in American history." In 1942, in response to a lawsuit, the Navy requested an amendment to expressly allow noncombat awards of the Medal of Honor. When the amendment passed, the Navy returned to using only the original 1862 inverted 5-point star design.
In 1944, the suspension ribbons for both the Army and Navy version were replaced with the now familiar neck ribbon. When the Air Force version was designed in 1956, it incorporated similar elements and design from the Army version. However, the Air Force disliked the fact that the organization responsible for designing the medal, the Institute of Heraldry, fell under the Army, which led the Air Force leadership to reject four design proposals before settling on the "heraldically confusing" Statue of Liberty. At the Air Force leadership's insistence, the new medal depicted the Statue of Liberty's image in place of Minerva on the medal and changed the connecting device from an eagle to an heraldic thunderbolt flanked with wings as found on the service seal.
Since 1944, the Medal of Honor has been attached to a light blue colored moiré silk neck ribbon that is 13⁄16 in (30 mm) in width and 213⁄4 in (550 mm) in length. The center of the ribbon displays thirteen white stars in the form of three chevron. Both the top and middle chevrons are made up of 5 stars, with the bottom chevron made of 3 stars. The Medal of Honor is one of only two United States military awards suspended from a neck ribbon. The other is the Commander's Degree of the Legion of Merit, and is usually awarded to individuals serving foreign governments.
On May 2, 1896, Congress authorized a "ribbon to be worn with the medal and [a] rosette or knot to be worn in lieu of the medal." The service ribbon is light blue with five white stars in the form of an "M". It is placed first in the top position in the order of precedence and is worn for situations other than full-dress military uniform. The lapel button is a 1⁄2-inch (13 mm), six-sided light blue bowknot rosette with thirteen white stars and may be worn on appropriate civilian clothing on the left lapel.
In 2011, Department of Defense instructions in regard to the Medal of Honor were amended to read "for each succeeding act that would otherwise justify award of the Medal of Honor, the individual receiving the subsequent award is authorized to wear an additional Medal of Honor ribbon and/or a 'V' device on the Medal of Honor suspension ribbon" (the "V" device is a 1⁄4-inch-high (6.4 mm) bronze miniature letter "V" with serifs that denotes valor). The Medal of Honor was the only decoration authorized the use of the "V" device (none were ever issued) to designate subsequent awards in such fashion. Nineteen individuals, all now deceased, were double Medal of Honor recipients. In July 2014, DoD instructions were changed to read, "A separate MOH is presented to an individual for each succeeding act that justified award." As of 2014, no attachments are authorized for the Medal of Honor.
Medal of Honor flag
Medal of Honor flag
On October 23, 2002, Pub.L.107–248 was enacted, modifying 36 U.S.C.§ 903, authorizing a Medal of Honor flag to be presented to each person whom a Medal of Honor is awarded. In the case of a posthumous award, the flag will be presented to whomever the Medal of Honor is presented to, which in most cases will be the primary next of kin of the deceased awardee.
The flag was based on a concept by retired U.S. Army Special Forces First Sergeant Bill Kendall of Jefferson, Iowa, who in 2001, designed a flag to honor Medal of Honor recipient Captain Darrell Lindsey, a B-26 pilot from Jefferson who was killed in action during World War II. Kendall's design of a light blue field emblazoned with 13 white five-pointed stars was nearly identical to that of Sarah LeClerc's of the Institute of Heraldry. LeClerc's gold fringed flag, ultimately accepted as the official flag, does not include the words "Medal of Honor" as written on Kendall's flag. The color of the field and the 13 white stars, arranged in the form of a three-bar chevron, consisting of two chevrons of five stars and one chevron of three stars, emulate the suspension ribbon of the Medal of Honor. The flag has no defined proportions.
There are two distinct protocols for awarding the Medal of Honor. The first and most common is nomination and approval through the chain of command of the service member. The second method is nomination by a member of the U.S. Congress, generally at the request of a constituent. In both cases, if the proposal is outside the time limits for the recommendation, approval to waive the time limit requires a special Act of Congress. The Medal of Honor is presented by the President on behalf of, and in the name of, the Congress. Since 1980, nearly all Medal of Honor recipients—or in the case of posthumous awards, the next of kin—have been personally decorated by the Commander-in-Chief. Since 1941, more than half of the Medals of Honor have been awarded posthumously.
Evolution of criteria
19th century: Several months after President Abraham Lincoln signed Public Resolution 82 into law on December 21, 1861, for a Navy medal of honor, a similar resolution was passed in July 1862 for an Army version of the medal. Six U.S. Army soldiers who hijacked a Confederatelocomotive named The General in 1862 were the first Medal of Honor recipients;James J. Andrews led the raid. He was caught and hanged as a U.S. spy, but as a civilian, he was not eligible to receive the medal. Many Medals of Honor awarded in the 19th century were associated with "saving the flag" (and country), not just for patriotic reasons, but because the U.S. flag was a primary means of battlefield communication at the time. Because no other military decoration was authorized during the Civil War, some seemingly less exceptional and notable actions were recognized by a Medal of Honor during that conflict.
20th century: Early in the twentieth century, the Navy awarded many Medals of Honor for peacetime bravery. For instance, in 1901, John Henry Helms aboard the USS Chicago (CA-14) was awarded the medal for saving the ship's cook from drowning. Seven sailors aboard the USS Iowa (BB-4) were awarded the medal after the ship's boiler exploded on January 25, 1904. Richard Byrd and Floyd Bennett were awarded the medal—combat ("Tiffany") version despite the existence then of a non-combat form of the Navy medal—for the 1926 flight they claim reached the North Pole. And Admiral Thomas J. Ryan was awarded the medal for saving a woman from the burning Grand Hotel in Yokohama, Japan, following the 1923 Great Kantō earthquake. Between 1919 and 1942, the Navy issued two separate versions of the Medal of Honor, one for acts related to combat and one for non-combat bravery. The criteria for the award tightened during World War I for the Army version of the Medal of Honor, while the Navy version retained a non-combat provision until 1963. In an Act of Congress of July 9, 1918, the War Department version of the medal required that the recipient "distinguish himself conspicuously by gallantry and intrepidity at the risk of his life above and beyond the call of duty", and also required that the act of valor be performed "in action involving actual conflict with an enemy". This followed shortly after the results of the Army Medal of Honor Review Board, which struck 911 medals from the Medal of Honor list in February 1917 for lack of basic prerequisites. These included the members of the 27th Maine erroneously awarded the medal for reenlisting to guard the capital during the Civil War, 29 members of Abraham Lincoln's funeral detail, and six civilians, including Buffalo Bill Cody (restored along with four other scouts in 1989) and Mary Edwards Walker (though the latter's was restored posthumously in 1977).
World War II: As a result of lawsuits, the Navy requested the Congress expressly authorize non-combat medals in the text of the authorizing statute, since the Navy had been awarding non-combat medals with questionable legal backing that had caused the department much embarrassment. The last non-combat Navy Medal of Honor was awarded in 1945, although the Navy attempted to award a non-combat Medal of Honor as late as the Korean War. Official accounts vary, but generally, the Medal of Honor for combat was known as the "Tiffany Cross", after the company that designed the medal. The Tiffany Cross was first awarded in 1919, but was unpopular partly because of its design as well as a lower gratuity than the Navy's original medal. The Tiffany Cross Medal of Honor was awarded at least three times for non-combat. By a special authorized Act of Congress, the medal was presented to Byrd and Bennett (see above). In 1942, the United States Navy reverted to a single Medal of Honor, although the statute still contained a loophole allowing the award for both "action involving actual conflict with the enemy" or "in the line of his profession". Arising from these criteria, approximately 60 percent of the medals earned during and after World War II have been awarded posthumously.
Public Law 88-77, July 25, 1963: The requirements for the Medal of Honor were standardized among all the services, requiring that a recipient had "distinguished himself conspicuously by gallantry and intrepidity at the risk of his life above and beyond the call of duty." Thus, the act removed the loophole allowing non-combat awards to Navy personnel. The act also clarified that the act of valor must occur during one of three circumstances:
While engaged in action against an enemy of the United States
While engaged in military operations involving conflict with an opposing foreign force.
While serving with friendly foreign forces engaged in an armed conflict against an opposing armed force in which the United States is not a belligerent party.
Congress drew the three permutations of combat from President Kennedy's executive order of April 25, 1962, which previously added the same criteria to the Purple Heart. On August 24, Kennedy added similar criteria for the Bronze Star Medal. The amendment was necessary because Cold War armed conflicts did not qualify for consideration under previous statutes such as the 1918 Army Medal of Honor Statute that required valor "in action involving actual conflict with an enemy", since the United States has not formally declared war since World War II as a result of the provisions of the United Nations Charter. According to congressional testimony by the Army's Deputy Chief of Staff for Personnel, the services were seeking authority to award the Medal of Honor and other valor awards retroactive to July 1, 1958, in areas such as Berlin, Lebanon, Quemoy and Matsu Islands, Taiwan Straits, Congo, Laos, Vietnam, and Cuba.
Authority and privileges
Medal of Honor monument and Medal of Honor headstones of the Civil War recipients of "Andrews Raid" at the Chattanooga National Cemetery in Chattanooga, Tennessee.
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) (naval service) (Air Force) (Coast Guard), distinguished himself conspicuously by gallantry and intrepidity at the risk of his life above and beyond the call of duty.
Privileges and courtesies
The Medal of Honor confers special privileges on its recipients. By law, recipients have several benefits:
Each Medal of Honor recipient may have his or her name entered on the Medal of Honor Roll (38 U.S.C.§ 1560).
Each person whose name is placed on the Medal of Honor Roll is certified to the United States Department of Veterans Affairs as being entitled to receive a monthly pension above and beyond any military pensions or other benefits for which they may be eligible. The pension is subject to cost-of-living increases; as of December 1, 2017, it is $1,329.58 a month.
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. This benefit allows the recipient to travel as he or she deems fit, and allows the recipient's dependents to travel either Overseas–Overseas, Overseas–Continental US, or Continental US–Overseas when accompanied by the recipient.
Special identification cards and commissary and exchange privileges are provided for Medal of Honor recipients and their eligible dependents.
As with all medals, retired personnel may wear the Medal of Honor on "appropriate" civilian clothing. Regulations specify that recipients of the Medal of Honor are allowed to wear the uniform "at their pleasure" with standard restrictions on political, commercial, or extremist purposes (other former members of the armed forces may do so only at certain ceremonial occasions).
Most states (40) offer a special license plate for certain types of vehicles to recipients at little or no cost to the recipient. The states that do not offer Medal of Honor specific license plate offer special license plates for veterans for which recipients may be eligible.
Although not required by law or military regulation, members of the uniformed services are encouraged to render salutes to recipients of the Medal of Honor as a matter of respect and courtesy regardless of rank or status, whether or not they are in uniform. This is one of the few instances where a living member of the military will receive salutes from members of a higher rank.
1904: The Army redesigned its Medal of Honor, largely a reaction to the copying of the Medal of Honor by various veterans organizations, such as the Grand Army of the Republic. To prevent the making of copies of the medal, Brigadier General George Gillespie, Jr., a Medal of Honor recipient from the Civil War, applied for and obtained a patent for the new design. General Gillespie received the patent on November 22, 1904, and he transferred it the following month to the Secretary of War at the time, William Howard Taft.
1923: Congress passed a statute (the year before the 20-year term of the patent would expire)—which would later be codified at 18 U.S.C. §704—prohibiting the unauthorized wearing, manufacturing, or sale of military medals or decorations. In 1994, Congress amended the statute to permit an enhanced penalty if the offense involved the Medal of Honor.
2006: The Stolen Valor Act of 2005 was enacted. The law amended 18 U.S.C. § 704 to make it a federal criminal offense for a person to deliberately state falsely that he or she had been awarded a military decoration, service medal, or badge. The law also permitted an enhanced penalty for someone who falsely claimed to have been awarded the Medal of Honor.
June 28, 2012: In the case of United States v. Alvarez, the Supreme Court of the United States held that the Stolen Valor Act of 2005's criminalization of the making of false claims of having been awarded a military medal, decoration, or badge was an unconstitutional violation of the First Amendment's guarantee of free speech. The case involved an elected official in California, Xavier Alvarez, who had falsely stated at a public meeting that he had been awarded the Medal of Honor, even though he had never served in any branch of the armed forces. The Supreme Court's decision did not specifically address the constitutionality of the older portion of the statute which prohibits the unauthorized wearing, manufacturing, or sale of military medals or decorations. Under the law, the unauthorized wearing, manufacturing, or sale of the Medal of Honor is punishable by a fine of up to $100,000 and imprisonment of up to one year.
June 3, 2013: President Barack Obama signed into law a revised version of the Stolen Valor Act, making it a federal offense for someone to represent themselves as awardees of medals for valor in order to receive benefits or other privileges (such as grants, educational benefits, housing, etc.) that are set aside for veterans and other service members. As of 2017, there were only two reported arrests and prosecutions under the law, leading at least 22 states to enact their own legislation to criminalize stolen valor amid claims that the federal law was virtually unenforced.
A number of veteran support organizations and private companies devote themselves to exposing those who falsely claim to have received the Medal of Honor.
1996: HLI Lordship Industries Inc., a former Medal of Honor contractor, was fined for selling 300 medals for US$75 each.
1996: Fort Lauderdale, Florida, resident Jackie Stern was convicted of wearing a Medal of Honor to which he was not entitled. A federal judge sentenced him to serve one year of probation and to write a letter of apology to each of the then-living 171 recipients of the medal. His letter was published in the local newspaper.
2003: Edward Fedora and Gisela Fedora were charged with violating 18 U.S.C.§ 704(b), Unlawful Sale of a Medal of Honor, for selling medals awarded to U.S. Navy sailor Robert Blume (for action in the Spanish–American War) and to U.S. Army First Sergeant George Washington Roosevelt (for action in the Civil War) to an FBI agent. Edward Fedora pleaded guilty and was sentenced to prison.
Medal of Honor recipients may apply in writing to the headquarters of the service branch of the medal awarded for a replacement or display Medal of Honor, ribbon, and appurtenance (Medal of Honor flag) without charge. Primary next of kin may also do the same and have any questions answered in regard to the Medal of Honor that was awarded.
The first Marines awarded the Medal of Honor (Navy version) were John F. Mackie and Pinkerton R. Vaughn on July 10, 1863; Mackie for the USS Galena on May 15, 1862 and Vaughn for the USS Mississippi on March 14, 1863. They both are the first Marine recipients; Vaughn's date of receipt/presentation has not been determined.
The first and only woman awarded the Medal of Honor (Army version) is Mary Edwards Walker, who was a civilian Army surgeon during the American Civil War. She received the award in 1865 after the Judge Advocate General of the Army determined that she could not be given a retroactive commission, and so President Andrew Johnson directed that "the usual medal of honor for meritorious services be given her."
The first black Medal of Honor recipients were sixteen Army and sixteen Navy service members that fought during the Civil War. The first award was announced on April 6, 1865, to twelve black soldiers from the five regiments of U.S. Colored Troops who fought at New Market Heights outside of Richmond on September 29, 1864.
The 1917 Medal of Honor Board deleted 911 awards, but only 910 names from the Army Medal of Honor list, including awards to Dr. Mary Edwards Walker, William F. "Buffalo Bill" Cody and the first of two awards issued February 10, 1887, to George W. Midil, who retained his award issued October 25, 1893. None of the 910 "deleted" recipients were ordered to return their medals, although on the question of whether the recipients could continue to wear their medals, the Judge Advocate General advised the Medal of Honor Board the Army was not obligated to police the matter. Walker continued to wear her medal until her death. Although some sources claim that President Jimmy Carter formally restored her medal posthumously in 1977, this action was actually taken unilaterally by the Army's Board for Correction of Military Records, which probably was unlawful because the Board lacks the authority to directly contradict federal statutes, and has no authority to award Medals of Honor on its own. The Army Board for Correction of Military Records also restored the Medals of Honor of Buffalo Bill and four other civilian scouts in 1989, although the Board still apparently lacked this authority.
61 Canadians who served in the United States Armed Forces, mostly during the American Civil War. Since 1900, four Canadians have received the medal. The only Canadian-born, naturalized U.S. citizen to receive the medal for heroism during the Vietnam War was Peter C. Lemon.
While the governing statute for the Army Medal of Honor (10 U.S.C.§ 6241), beginning in 1918, explicitly stated that a recipient must be "an officer or enlisted man of the Army", "distinguish himself conspicuously by gallantry and intrepidity at the risk of his life above and beyond the call of duty", and perform an act of valor "in action involving actual conflict with an enemy", exceptions have been made:
Charles Lindbergh, 1927, civilian pilot, and U.S. Army Air Corps reserve officer. Lindbergh's medal was authorized by a special act of Congress that directly contradicted the July 1918 act of Congress that required that all Army recipients be "in action involving actual conflict with an enemy," as well as a 1927 executive order directing that "not more than one of the several decorations authorized by Federal law will be awarded for the same act of heroism or extraordinary achievement" (Lindbergh was recognized for the same act with both the Medal of Honor and the Distinguished Flying Cross). The award was based on the previous acts authorizing the Navy medal to Byrd and Bennett (see above). Some congressmen objected to Lindbergh's award because it contradicted the 1918 statute, but Representative Snell reportedly quelled this dissent by explaining that "it was and it wasn't the Congressional Medal of Honor which Lindbergh would receive under his bill; that the Lindbergh medal would be entirely distinct from the valor award for war service." As a result, the medal was technically lawful, but has been criticized for "water[ing] down the Medal of Honor's requirements of 'gallantry and intrepidity at the risk of his life above and beyond the call of duty' while in 'actual conflict with an enemy' by substituting a courageous action that did not involve duty, combat with an enemy, military service, or even firm ideological backing."
Major General (Retired) Adolphus Greely was awarded the medal in 1935, on his 91st birthday, "for his life of splendid public service". The result of a special act of Congress similar to Lindbergh's, Greely's medal citation did not reference any acts of valor. According to one author, this was "the most ambiguous and misleading citation that ever accompanied the award of a Medal of Honor."
U.S. unknown recipients include the Unknowns of World War I, World War II, Korea, and Vietnam. The Vietnam Unknown was later identified as Air Force 1st Lt. Michael J. Blassie through the use of DNA identification. Blassie's family asked for his Medal of Honor, but the Department of Defense denied the request in 1998. According to Undersecretary of Defense Rudy de Leon, the medal was awarded symbolically to all Vietnam unknowns, not to Blassie specifically. Following this logic, it is unclear whether unknown decorations should be counted as discrete medal awards, since they are both symbolic as well as intended to honor multiple recipients.
Nineteen men have been awarded the Medal of Honor twice. The first two-time Medal of Honor recipient was Thomas Custer (brother of George Armstrong Custer) for two separate actions that took place several days apart during the American Civil War.
Five "double recipients" were awarded both the Army and Navy Medal of Honor for the same action; all five of these occurrences took place during World War I. Since February 1919, no single individual can be awarded more than one Medal of Honor for the same action, although a member of one branch of the armed forces can receive the Medal of Honor from another branch if the actions for which it was awarded occurred under the authority of the second branch.
To date, the maximum number of Medals of Honor earned by any service member has been two. The last living individual to be awarded two Medals of Honor was John J. Kelly 3 Oct 1918; the last individual to receive two Medals of Honor for two different actions was Smedley Butler, in 1914 and 1915. Notably, neither of these dual award pairs would occur today; nor would most of the double recipients, owing primarily to the fact that early versions of the Medal of Honor were not equivalent to the medal today. For example, Kelly's two awards were for the same discrete action, but he received a medal from both the Army and Navy because the awards were separate at that time (and this conflict predated the executive order forbidding multiple medals of any type for the same action). Butler's award for Veracruz (like the vast majority during that occupation) was essentially a service medal rather than for valor, per se. Notably, Butler claimed that the award was undeserved, and returned it to the Department of the Navy.
§ Rank refers to rank held at time of Medal of Honor action.
Since 1979, 86 late Medal of Honor awards have been presented for actions from the Civil War to the Vietnam War. In addition, five recipients whose names were not included on the Army Medal of Honor Roll in 1917 had their awards restored. However, since there was no statute of limitations on the award until legislation enacted during World War I, prior to this time there was no such thing as a "late award." Thus, hundreds of earlier awards would have also been late if time limitations had applied. For example, the War Department approved hundreds of Civil War awards decades after the qualifying acts; in the 1890s alone, the Army awarded 664 medals to volunteer troops, the vast majority of which were Civil War veterans. Since approximately 1,200 medals were awarded to Civil War soldiers, this means that about half were awarded over 25 years after the conflict's cessation, if the over 900 medals rescinded in 1917 are excluded. The Secretary of War, Elihu Root, eventually asked Congress to enact a statute of limitations for the award in reaction to the influx of Civil War applicants, reflecting in 1901 that claims were still being processed "for acts of gallantry alleged to have been performed more than forty years ago."
A 1993 study commissioned by the U.S. Army investigated "racial disparity" in the awarding of medals. At the time, no Medals of Honor had been awarded to U.S. soldiers of African descent who served in World War II. After an exhaustive review, the study recommended that ten Distinguished Service Cross recipients be awarded the Medal of Honor. On January 13, 1997, President Bill Clinton presented the Medal of Honor to seven of these World War II veterans, six of them posthumously and one to former Second Lieutenant Vernon Baker.
As a result of a Congressionally mandated review to ensure brave acts were not overlooked due to prejudice or discrimination, on March 18, 2014, President Obama upgraded Distinguished Service Crosses to Medals of Honor for 24 Hispanic, Jewish, and African American individuals—the "Valor 24"—for their actions in World War II, the Korean War and the Vietnam War. Three were still living at the time of the ceremony.
During the Civil War, Secretary of WarEdwin M. Stanton promised a Medal of Honor to every man in the 27th Maine Volunteer Infantry Regiment who extended his enlistment beyond the agreed-upon date. The Battle of Gettysburg was imminent, and 311 men of the regiment volunteered to serve until the battle was resolved. The remaining men returned to Maine, but with the Union victory at Gettysburg the 311 volunteers soon followed. The volunteers arrived back in Maine in time to be discharged with the men who had earlier returned. Since there seemed to be no official list of the 311 volunteers, the War Department exacerbated the situation by forwarding 864 medals to the commanding officer of the regiment. The commanding officer only issued the medals to the volunteers who stayed behind and retained the others on the grounds that, if he returned the remainder to the War Department, the War Department would try to reissue the medals.
In 1916, a board of five Army generals on the retired list convened under act of law to review every Army Medal of Honor awarded. The board was to report on any Medals of Honor awarded or issued "for any cause other than distinguished conduct by an officer or enlisted man in action involving actual conflict with an enemy." The commission, led by Nelson A. Miles, identified 911 awards for causes other than distinguished conduct. This included the 864 medals awarded to members of the 27th Maine regiment; 29 servicemen who served as Abraham Lincoln's funeral guard; six civilians, including Mary Edwards Walker and Buffalo Bill Cody; and 12 others. Walker's medal was restored by the Army Board for Correction of Military Records in 1977, an action that is often attributed to President Jimmy Carter in error. Cody and four other civilian scouts who rendered distinguished service in action, and who were therefore considered by the board to have fully earned their medals, also had their medals restored by the Army Board for Correction of Military Records in 1989. The report issued by the Medal of Honor review board in 1917 was reviewed by the Judge Advocate General, who also advised that the War Department should not seek the return of the revoked medals from the recipients identified by the board. In the case of recipients who continued to wear the medal, the War Department was advised to take no action to enforce the statute. Of the 910 revocations, none involved black recipients.
Similarly-named U.S. decorations
The following decorations, in one degree or another, bear similar names to the Medal of Honor, but are entirely separate awards with different criteria for issuance:
^"Above and Beyond": A History of the Medal of Honor and the Civil War, P. 5, These medals were made of copper and coated with bronze, ISBN0-939526-19-0, by the editors of Boston Publishing Company in cooperation with the CMOH Society, 1985.
^"Above and Beyond", by Boston Publishing Company, 2006
^Quote is from what is written on War Dept. return receipt letter dated March 1865 signed by asst. adjutant Edward Townsend that accompanied the Medal of Honor delivered to Private Franklin Johndro for his act on Sept. 30, 1864, capturing 49 armed Confederate soldiers.
^"Above and Beyond", by Boston Publishing Company, P. 5, 2nd paragraph, 1985
^"Stealing the General, The Great Locomotive Chase and the First Medal of Honor, by Russell S. Bonds, 2006, ISBN978-1-59416-033-2, P. 309: "The medal of honor is bronze, of neat device, and is highly prized by those of whom it has been bestowed", "Townsend wrote in a 1864 report. Its original design, embodied first in the Navy Medal, was an inverted, five-pointed star ..."
^"Above and Beyond: A History of the Medal of Honor from the Civil War to Vietnam", P. 5, The medals were made of copper and coated with bronze, which gave them a reddish tint. ISBN0-939526-19-0, 1985, by the editors of the Boston Publishing Company in cooperation with the CMOH Society
^"An Act Making Appropriations for sundry Civil Expenses of the Government for the Year ending June thirty, eighteen hundred and sixty-four, and for the Year ending the 30[th] of June, 1863, and for other Purposes." (37th Congress, Sess. III: 12 Stat 744, Chap. 79). "And be it further enacted, That the President cause to be struck from the dies recently prepared at the United States mint for that purpose, "Medals of Honor" additional to those authorized by the act [Resolution] of July twelfth, eighteen hundred and sixty-two, and present the same to such officers, non-commissioned officers, and privates as have most distinguished or may hereafter most distinguish themselves in action; and the sum of twenty-thousand dollars is hereby appropriated out of any money in the treasury not otherwise appropriated, to defray the expenses of the same" (37th Congress, Sess. III: 12 Stat. 751, Chap. 79, Sec. 6).
^"Great Locomotive Chase and the First Medal of Honor", 2006, by Russell S. Bonds
^Mollan, Mark C. (Summer 2001). "The Army Medal of Honor: The First Fifty-five Years". Prologue Magazine. 33 (2). Retrieved 3 September 2014. Further depreciating the value of the medal, the Grand Army of the Republic and other veterans groups began giving out their own medals, some of which looked conspicuously similar to the Medal of Honor.
^Comerford, Mass Communication Specialist 1st Class Tim (20 December 2013). "A Matter of Honor – History of the Medal of Honor". navylive.dodlive.mil. Navy Office of Information. Retrieved 3 September 2014. According to Frank, the Army redesigned its medal because other organizations had medals that looked similar. For example, the Grand Army of the Republic had a medal that, from far away, looked like a MoH.
^"Legion of Merrit". afpc.af.mil. United States Air Force. 3 August 2010. Archived from the original on 15 September 2012. Retrieved 3 September 2014. The degrees of chief commander and commander are conferred on members of foreign governments only and are awarded for services comparable to those for which the Distinguished Service Medal is given to members of the United States armed forces.
^Congressional Medal of Honor site, History of the Medal of Honor, May 2, 1896 ("20 Stat. 473")
^"Medal of Honor Recipients Tell Their Stories". C-SPAN. National Cable Satellite Corporation. 21 November 2012. Archived from the original on April 14, 2013. Retrieved 28 January 2013. The Medal of Honor is the highest U.S. military honor and is usually presented by the President of the United States.
^Jeff Schogol; Leoo Shane III (12 January 2007). "Marine posthumously awarded Medal of Honor". Stars and Stripes. Retrieved 28 January 2013. At the ceremony, Bush noted that more than half of the Medal of Honor recipients since World War II have died earning it.
^"An Act to Amend Titles 10, 14, and 38, United States Code, with Respect to the Award of Certain Medals and the Medal of Honor Roll", July 25, 1956, HR 2998, Public Law 88-77, 77 Stat. 93.
^DoD Awards Manual 1348.33, V1, Oct. 12, 2011 (Nov. 23, 2010). p. 31–32, 8. Medal of Honor (1) (a) 1., 2., 3. (k), p. 10, Title 10 US Code sections 3741, 6241, and 8741 (Titles 14 & 38 not referenced by DoD)
^ ab"An Act to Amend Titles 10, 14, and 38, United States Code, with Respect to the Award of Certain Medals and the Medal of Honor Roll", July 25, 1963, HR 2998, Public Law 88–77, 77 Stat. 93.
^DoD Manual 1348.33, V1, Oct. 12. 2011 (Nov. 23, 2010), p. 31 & 32, 8. Medal of Honor (1) (a) 3. (k), p. 10, Title 10 US Code sections 3741, 6241, and 8741 (Title 14 & 38 not referenced By DoD).
^ ab"Subcommittee No.2 Consideration of HR2998, A Bill to Amend Titles 10, 14, and 38, United States Code, with Respect to the Award of Certain Medals and the Medal of Honor Roll", House of Representatives, Committee of Armed Services, June 6, 1963.
^Executive order 11046 – DoD Awards Manual 1348.33, V3, Oct. 12, 2011 (Nov. 23, 2010), pp. 19–21, 4. Bronze Star Medal (Title 10 & 37 is referenced by DoD, Titles 14 & 38 is not referenced by DoD)
^"An Act Making Appropriations for the Support of the Army for the Fiscal Year Ending June Thirtieth, Nineteen Hundred and Nineteen", July 9, 1918, HR12281, Public Law 193, 40 Stat. 870.
^Shaughnessy, Larry (February 8, 2011). "America's newest Medal of Honor recipient is leaving the Army". CNN. Retrieved February 9, 2011. Even though he's leaving the Army, Giunta is entitled to a number of special benefits reserved for Medal of Honor recipients, including a monthly Veterans Affairs pension of more than $1,237 a month for life as well as an invitation to every presidential inauguration and inauguration party.
^William Putnam, Arctic Superstars: The Scientific Exploration and Study of High Mountain Elevations and of the Regions Lying Within or about the Arctic and Antarctic Circles (Boulder, CO: American Alpine Club, 2001), 171.
^ Joseph L. Schott, Above and Beyond: The Story of the Congressional Medal of Honor (NY: Popular Library, 1964), 144
^War Department General orders, No. 59, 13 December 1921, Sec. I
^Approved March 9, 1948, Public Law 438, Eightieth Congress
^Approved August 31, 1957, Public Law 85-251 Eighty-fifth Congress
^Approved May 25, 1984, Public Law 98-301, Ninety-eighth Congress
^"Medal of Honor Won't Join Once-unknown Pilot", Chicago Tribune, August 23, 1998.
^The total 3522 includes the award presented by President Trump on October 17, 2018. The U.S. Army total includes five First World War Army medals awarded to U.S. marines who were later awarded the Naval Medal of Honor for the same deed. However, the award to marine Fred W. Stockman, who was only awarded the Army Medal of Honor is counted in the USMC total.
^Congressional Research Service, Medal of Honor Recipients: 1979–2014, Anne Leland, Information Research Specialist, December 2, 2014, [www.fas.org]. The report lists the late awards until the end of 2014. six additional late awards have been presented at the White House, three by President Obama in 2015 and 2016 and three by President Trump in 2017 and 2018.
^Report of the Chief of the Record and Pension Office, War Department, to the Secretary of War (1901).
Hanna, Charles W. (2010). African American Recipients of the Medal of Honor: A Biographical Dictionary, Civil War Through Vietnam War. Jefferson, N.C.: Mcfarland. ISBN978-0-7864-4911-8. OCLC476156919.
Johnson, John L. (2007). Every Night & Every Morn: Portraits of Asian, Hispanic, Jewish, African-American, and Native-American Recipients of the Congressional Medal of Honor. Winston-Salem, NC: Tristan Press. ISBN978-0-9799572-0-8. OCLC180773640.
Mears, Dwight S. (2018). The Medal of Honor: The Evolution of America's Highest Military Decoration. Lawrence, KS: University Press of Kansas. ISBN9780700626656. OCLC1032014828.
Mikaelian, Allen; Wallace, Mike (2003). Medal of Honor: Profiles of America's Military Heroes from the Civil War to the Present. New York: Hyperion Books. ISBN978-0-7868-8576-3.
Tucker, Spencer (2012). Almanac of American Military History. 1. Santa Barbara, CA: ABC-CLIO. ISBN978-1-59884-530-3.
Willbanks, James H. (2011). America's Heroes: Medal of Honor Recipients from the Civil War to Afghanistan. Santa Barbara, CA: ABC-CLIO. ISBN978-1-59884-394-1. OCLC662405903.