Medal of Honor

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Medals of Honor from each branch of the United States Military

The Medal of Honor is the highest military decoration given in the United States for valor in combat, and is presented by the President in the name of the Congress. It sometimes is referred to as the "Congressional Medal of Honor."[1] The medal is presented only to the bravest of the brave; to date, 3,457 Medals of Honor have been awarded,[2] and nine have been presented for service in Iraq and Afghanistan, covering all branches of the United States military. Individuals who wear it call themselves "recipients," not winners.


Historical Medals of Honor
Medal Remarks
Navy Medal of Honor 1862.jpg Original, 1862 design of the Navy's version.
308px-Medal of honor old.jpg Original, 1862 design of the Army's version.
MOH 1896.jpg Non-military organizations creating unauthorized copies of the Medal of Honor led to Joint Resolution of Congress, Fifty-Fourth Congress, Sess. I, on May 2, 1896, which caused a slight change in design, principally with the ribbon. A bowknot (rosette) was also adopted, to be worn on occasions in lieu of the medal.
MOH WWI.jpg The Gillespie version, reflecting the changes authorized by the Army and Congress in 1904. Designed by Major General George L. Gillespie, the new version included the replacement of the central portrait for the profile of Minerva, the encirclement of the star with a laurel wreath, and a change to the ribbon.
TifanyCrossMOH.jpg The Tiffany Cross was a version of the Medal of Honor awarded in cases of non-combat heroism. Authorized by the United States Navy in 1919 and cast by the renowned jewler and glassmaker Louis Comfort Tiffany of New York, the "Tiffany Cross" was abandoned in 1942 due to its unpopularity.

The Medal of Honor is awarded to members of the Armed Forces who distinguish themselves conspicuously by gallantry and intrepidity at the risk of his life above and beyond the call of duty

  • while engaged in an action against an enemy of the United States;
  • while engaged in military operations involving conflict with an opposing foreign force; or
  • 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.

To justify the decoration, the individual's service must clearly be rendered conspicuous above their comrades by an act so outstanding that it clearly distinguishes their gallantry beyond the call of duty from lesser forms of bravery; and it must be the type of deed which if not done would not subject the indidual to any justified criticism. The deed must be without detriment to the mission of the command or to the command to which attached.

The recommendations as to awarding the medal must be made within a two-year period for service members of the Army and Air Force, or three years for the Navy, Marines, and Coast Guard. Documentation must be made establishing no doubt as to the valor of the individual, which is forwarded up the chain of command to the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs. Once approved, the recommendation is referred to the Secretary concerned for appropriate action. A formal ceremony is then held in Washington, D.C., where the president personally presents the award to the recipient, or postumously to the next of kin.


While engaged in the fight for American independence, General George Washington felt a need to recognize the valor of individual soldiers on the battlefield. From his headquarters in Newburgh, New York on August 7, 1782, Washington wrote:

The General ever desirous to cherish virtuous ambition in his soldiers, as well as to foster and encourage every species of Military merit, directs that whenever any singularly meritorious action is performed, the author of it shall be permitted to wear on his facings over the left breast, the figure of a heart in purple cloth, or silk, edged with narrow lace or binding. Not only instances of unusual gallantry, but also of extraordinary fidelity and essential service in any way shall meet with a due reward.[1]

He further wrote that the issuing of the award must be grounded in "incontestible proofs" as to the valor of the man receiving it, "accompanied with certificates from the Commanding officers of the regiment and brigade". Only three men received what was then known as the "Badge of Military Merit" before it fell into disuse for nearly 150 years; resurrected by General Douglas MacArthur in 1932, it became - with slight changes - the Purple Heart.

A need for military decorations was presented at least once early in the American Civil War; Lt. Colonel Edward Davis Townsend, an assistant to Army Adjutant General Lorenzo Thomas, recommended the creation of a "medal for valor", but the idea was quashed by then-Army head Lt. General Winfield Scott, who felt that decorations were too close to European royalty. However, individual acts of soldiers on the battlefields of the Civil War demonstrated that such valor and heroism could not go unrecognized; moreover, Navy Secretary Gideon Welles liked Townsend's idea, which he placed in a series of recommendations to President Abraham Lincoln. On December 9, 1861 Iowa Senator James W. Grimes introduced S. No. 82, a bill intended to "promote the efficiency of the Navy" by the authorization, production, and distribution of what was termed "medals of honor". On December 21, the bill was passed, authorizing 200 such medals be produced "which shall be bestowed upon such petty officers, seamen, landsmen and marines as shall distinguish themselves by their gallantry in action and other seamanlike qualities during the present war." President Lincoln signed the bill and the Medal of Honor was born, authorized for Sailors and Marines.[3]

Less than two months later on February 17, 1862 Massachusetts Senator Henry Wilson introduced a similar bill to authorize "the President to distribute medals to privates in the Army of the United States who shall distinguish themselves in battle." Over the following months wording changed slightly as the bill made its way through Congress. When President Abraham Lincoln signed S.J.R. No 82 into law as 12 Stat. 623-624 on July 14, 1862, the Army had its own Medal of Honor:

Resolved by the Senate and House of Representatives of the United States of America in Congress assembled, That the President of the United States be, and he is hereby, authorized to cause two thousand "medals of honor" to be prepared with suitable emblematic devices, and to direct that the same be presented, in the name of the Congress, 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 (Civil War).[4]


The Medal of Honor
Moh airforce.jpg United States Army
Moh army.jpg United States Navy
United States Marine Corps
United States Coast Guard
Moh airforce.jpg United States Air Force

Secretary Welles delegated the crafting and design of the medal to James Pollock, Director of the United States Mint, who in turn delegated responsibility for the actual design to artist Christian Schuller. The medal was cast from bronze in the shape of an inverted star; within the center is the Roman goddess Minerva, bearing the shield of the Union of the states in her right hand, and the fasces - ancient Roman symbol of authority - in her left. She is repulsing the figure of Discord, who was shown crouching with snakes in his hand. Pollock referred to Discord as "the foul spirit of secession and rebellion" in a letter he sent to Welles. Circling the figures were thirty-four stars, representing the Union of states prior to the secession.

The Navy version of the medal was suspended from an anchor; the Army's version was suspended from an eagle over the word "VALOR"; both were hung from a red, white, and blue ribbon representing the flag.

The present Medal of Honor reflects changes made to the design during the period of the First World War. The striped ribbon was replaced by a blue field bearing 13 stars, but it remained a "pin-on" medal until World War II, when the pin-clasp was replaced with a rounded pad suspended from a blue silk neck ribbon. A change was made to the star as well: the Army replaced the central figures with a profile of the head of Minerva; and when the newly created United States Air Force had theirs, they chose the profile of the head of Liberty. Both added a green wreath of laurel around the star. The Navy retained the original design.

Famous recipients

First recipient

During the Civil War, the job of color bearer was one of the most hazardous as well as important duties in the Army. Soldiers looked to the flag for direction and inspiration in battle and the bearer was usually out in front, drawing heavy enemy fire while holding the flag high. On November 16, 1863, regimental color bearer Pvt. Joseph E. Brandle, from the 17th Michigan Infantry, took part in a battle near Lenoire, Tennessee "...[H]aving been twice wounded and the sight of one eye destroyed, [he] still held to the colors until ordered to the rear by his regimental commander."[1]

Generational valor

Valor is found across the times as well as across the ranks, as World War II 2nd Lt. Robert Craig, from the 3rd Infantry Division, demonstrated.

According to his citation, 2nd Lt. Robert Craig volunteered to defeat an enemy machine gun that three other officers before him could not. After locating the gun, he found himself and his men without cover, as they were out in the open and completely vulnerable to approximately 100 enemies. His citation reads:

Electing to sacrifice himself so that his platoon might carry on the battle, he ordered his men to withdraw [...] while he drew the enemy fire to himself. With no hope of survival, he charged toward the enemy until he was within 25 yards of them. Assuming a kneeling position, he killed five and wounded three enemy soldiers. While the hostile force concentrated fire on him, his platoon reached the cover of the crest. 2nd Lt. Craig was killed by enemy fire, but his intrepid action so inspired his men that they drove the enemy from the area, inflicting heavy casualties on the hostile force.[1]

Iraq and Afghanistan

For actions in Iraq during Operation Enduring Freedom and Operation Iraqi Freedom, the Medal of Honor has been awarded to Army Sergeant First Class Paul Ray Smith, Army Private First Class Ross McGinnis, Marine Corps Corporal Jason Dunham and Navy SEAL, Master-at-Arms Second Class Michael Monsoor.

For actions in Afghanistan, the Medal of Honor has been awarded to Navy SEAL Lieutenant Michael P. Murphy, Army Sergeant First Class Jared C. Monti and Army Staff Sergeant Robert James Miller. Army Staff Sergeant Salvatore Giunta and Army Sergeant First Class Leroy Petry are the first and second living recipients of the award since the Vietnam War.[3][5] On August 12, 2011, the White House announced that United States Marine Sergeant Dakota Meyer will become the third living Medal on Honor recipient on September 15, 2011. Meyer is the first Marine in 41 years to receive the award.[6]


  1. 1.0 1.1 1.2 Features
  2. Statistics
  3. 3.0 3.1 History of the Medal of Honor,
  4. Carl Sandburg. American Valor . History of the Medal, PBS.
  5. Michael M. Murphy
  6. Lamonthe, Dan (July 19, 2011) Obama OKs Medal of Honor for living Marine Navy Times, accessed August 15, 2011

See also

External links