The Medal of Honor is the highest and most prestigious personal military decoration that is awarded to recognize service members who have distinguished themselves by acts of valor. It is normally awarded by the President in the name of Congress at a formal ceremony in Washington, DC. The medal is also known as the “Congressional Medal of Honor.” Three versions of the award for the Army, Navy, and Air Force can be awarded. The Navy version of the medal is also awarded to those in the Coast Guard and the Marine Corps. The first Medal of Honor was introduced to the Navy in 1861, and a year after the Army followed with their version. It is the oldest and continuously issued combat decoration in the history of the United States Armed Forces. There have been 3522 Medals of Honor awarded (less than half were awarded during the Civil War). Congress established March 25th to be known as “National Medal of Honor Day” in 1990. Because of its prestige and status, the Medal nor ribbon is not allowed to be adorned without authorization, sold, or manufactured
Precursors to the Medal of Honor:
- Fidelity Medallion- The first medal for military service was issued in 1780 and created the same year. It was awarded to three militiamen from New York during the American Revolutionary War.
- The Badge of Military Merit- the first formal system of rewarding individual acts by US soldiers was established by George Washington in 1782. This was America’s first combat decoration and was not issued after the American Revolutionary War.
- Certificate of Merit (Meritorious Service Citation Certificate)- Established in 1847 after the Mexican-American War began, it was awarded “to any private soldier who had distinguished himself by gallantry performed in the presence of the enemy.” 539 certificates were awarded. It was discontinued after the war and then awarded again for extraordinary gallantry from 1874 to 1892.
- Certificate of Merit Medal- From 1892-1918, the Certificate of Merit could be awarded to Army members for distinguished service in combat or noncombat and the certificate was granted medal status as the Certificate of Merit Medal.
- Army Distinguished Service Medal- replaced the Certificate of Merit Medal in 1918.
- Navy Distinguished Service Medal- established in 1919.
- Army Distinguished Service Cross- For Army members who held the Distinguished Service Medal in place of the Certificate of Merit could apply for this award effective in 1934.
The Medal Of Honor: A Time Line
- 1861- A bill was submitted and signed that 200 “medals of honor” to be awarded to “further promote the Efficiency of the Navy.”
- 1862- A resolution was introduced and signed into law for a Medal of Honor for the Army.
- 1863- Congress made the Medal of Honor a permanent decoration and it was authorized for officers of the Army. During that same year, the first Medals of Honor were presented to six Union Army volunteers.
- 1890- The Medal of Honor Legion was established in Washington, DC.
- 1915- Navy, Marine Corps, and Coast Guard officers became eligible for the Medal of Honor.
- 1917- 911 recipients of the Medal of Honor were stricken off because the medal was awarded inappropriately. Some of these recipients included Buffalo Bill and Mary Edwards Walker.
- 1963- A separate designed for the Coast Guard medal was authorized but has never been designed or awarded.
- 1965- A separate design for the Air Force medal was officially adopted (previous recipients were awarded the Army version.)
There have been nineteen men who have been awarded the Medal of Honor twice (the most Medals of Honor earned by any servicemember). The first person awarded two Medals of Honor was because of two separate actions performed by Thomas Custer (George Custer’s brother) during the American Civil War. Five “double recipients” were awarded both the Army and the Navy Medals of Honor for the same action during World War I. Since 1919, no single person 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.”
Medal Of Honor Flag
In 2002, public law was enacted that authorized a Medal of Honor flag to be presented to each person whom a Medal was awarded.
List of Medals of Honor Awarded By Branch
- Army- 2,454
- Navy- 748
- Marine Corps- 300
- Air Force- 19
- Coast Guard- 1
List of Medals of Honor Awarded By Conflict
- Civil War (1861-1865)- 1,523
- Indian Wars (1865-1891)- 426
- Korean Expedition (1871)- 15
- Spanish-American War (1898)- 110
- Second Samoan Civil War (1899)- 4
- Philippine-American War (1899-1902)- 86
- Boxer Rebellion (1899-1901)- 59
- Occupation of Veracruz (1914)- 56
- United States Occupation of Haiti (1915-1934)- 8
- Dominican Republic Occupation (1916-1924)- 3
- World War I (1914-1918)- 126
- Occupation of Nicaragua (1912-1933)- 2
- World War II (1939-1945)- 472
- Korean War (1950-1953)- 145
- Vietnam War (1955-1975)- 261
- USS Liberty Incident (1967)- 1
- Battle of Mogadishu (1993)- 2
- Iraq War (2003-2011)- 4
- War in Afghanistan (2001-2014)- 17
- Peacetime- 193
- Unknown Soldiers- 9