The Medal of Honor is awarded for Conspicuous gallantry and intrepidity at the risk of his or her life above and beyond the call of duty while engaged in an action against any 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.
Most often, a service member is nominated through his or her chain of command. However, he or she may also be nominated by a member of Congress and approved by a special act of Congress. Either way a service member is nominated, the Medal of Honor is presented by the President on behalf of the Congress.
July 12, 1862
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 (For those of you that didn’t catch the date above, this was during the Civil War).
Total Recipients: 3,448
Living Recipients: 87
Double Recipients: 19
By branch of service
Air Force 18
Coast Guard 1
Because it is given specifically for Conspicuous gallantry and intrepidity at the risk of his or her life, the Medal of Honor is often awarded after death. More than half of those awarded since 1941, and all but one out of ten of them awarded since the end of Viet Nam (a total of 624 in all) have been awarded posthumously. Staff Sgt. Salvatore “Sal” Guinta will receive the Medal of Honor for his actions during a firefight Oct. 25, 2007 in Korengal Valley in Afghanistan. (This was announced by the White House on September 10, 2010, but his presentation ceremony has not yet been set.)
Dr. Mary Edwards Walker (see the article below on the Mary E. Walker House for homeless veteran women) was awarded the Medal of Honor for her work as a surgeon during the Civil War. However, because hers (along with others) were not considered combat related, the medal was rescinded in 1917. Thanks to one of our most incredible presidents – Jimmy Carter, her award was restored in 1977. She remains the only woman to have received the Medal of Honor to date.
One must serve in the US armed forces to be awarded the Medal of Honor, but one does not have to be an American citizen. Sixty-one Canadians (only one – Peter C. Lemon – during the Vietnam War, and only four since 1900) have been awarded the medal. The British Unknown Warrior was awarded the Medal of Honor on October 17, 1921 by General Pershing, and then the Victoria Cross (highest British award equivalent to the American Medal of Honor) was awarded to the US Unknown Soldier on Nov. 11, 1921
Sometimes is takes years for the award to be presented. Master Sergeant Woodrow W. Keeble (who died in 1982) was presented with the medal posthumously in March 3, 2008 by President Bush. Keeble was the first member of the Sioux tribe to be awarded the medal.
The Medal of Honor has gone through several physical metamorphoses. Initially, the Medal of Honor for the Navy was an inverted five-point star. Each point has a cluster of laurel leaves (representing victory) and oaks (representing strength) Thirty four stars circled this insignia (the number of stars on the US flag at that time – 1862 – including the 11 Confederate states). On the right, side was Minerva, the Roman Goddess of War and Wisdom. The owl on her helmet represented wisdom and the bundle of rods and the axe in her left hand represented authority. The shield in her right hand stood for the Union. Opposite Minerva is Discord – represented by a man holding snakes in his hands.
The neck ribbon (one of the only neck ribbons awarded in the US) was originally blue on top with thirteen red and white vertical stripes. The color white represents purity and innocence; red represents hardiness, valor and blood; blue signifies vigilance, perseverance and justice. The stripes also represent the rays of the sun. The 13 represents the original 13 colonies.
The Army version added an Eagle (representing the US) perched on cannon, grasping swords in its talons.
The Gillespie version of 1904 replaced Minerva with a simpler Goddess of War and replaced the ribbon with a light blue background with 13 white stars. This remains the contemporary ribbon’s design used today.
The Tiffany version of 1919 proved unpopular and did not last beyond 1942. It replaced the inverted star with an eight-pointed cross (representing the eight virtues of knighthood).
In 1965, Minerva was ousted in place of the head of the Statue of Liberty, with a crown of stars instead of the helmet.
America takes her heroes seriously. Any misuse, unauthorized manufacturing or wearing of the Medal of Honor is against the law. Breaking this law is punishable by a fine of up to $100,000 and up to one year of imprisonment. It is illegal to produce, wear, or distribute the Medal of Honor without proper authority of the Department of Defense.
From WWII until 1993, no Black soldiers had received a Medal of Honor. The Army investigated the possibility of overlooking potential candidates for possible racially-discriminatory reasons and rectified this error by awarding seven African American WWII vets with the Medal of Honor in place of their Distinguished Service Cross awards. A similar study was conducted for Asian Americans and twenty-one Medals of Honor were awarded in 2000 (twenty of them to members of the 442nd Regimental Combat Team).(See the article below about this incredible 442nd Battalion -- Go For Broke)
Special Privileges for Medal of Honor Recipients include a special pension of $1027 per month above and beyond any military pensions or other benefits he/she might receive plus a 10% raise in retirement pay. The recipient’s name is entered on the Medal of Honor Roll. The recipient is entitled to a supplemental uniform allowance. Under provisions of DoD Regulation 4515.13-R, recipients are entitled to special air transportation privileges. They can be buried or inurned at Arlington National Cemetery. Special ID cards, commissary and exchange privileges are provided for the recipient and their eligible dependents. The dependents may be admitted to US Military Academies without having to be nominated.
How to contact/honor recipients
The Congressional Medal of Honor Society has several ideas on their website of ways to educate our younger generations about these heroes. They also encourage citizens to contact them and through them, contact the Medal of Honor recipients who are still alive or honor the graves of those passed. There is also a scholarship available to which students may apply and citizens may contribute funds.
Congressional Medal of Honor Society
40 Patriots Point Rd.
Mt. Pleasant, SC 29464
Or Victoria Kueck at MEDALHQ @ EARTHLINK (DOT) NET
As Veterans Day approaches (or, depending on when you read this article – Memorial Day), you might consider sending a card of thanks to those Medal of Honor recipients still living and placing flowers on the graves of those who have gravesites near you.