Information on the Medal of Honor
The Medal of Honor is the highest military decoration awarded by the United States. It is often
colloquially referred to as the Congressional Medal of Honor because the President presents the
award "in the name of the Congress". It is bestowed on a member of the United States armed
forces who distinguishes himself "…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
Members of all branches of the U.S. military are eligible to receive the medal, and each service
has a unique design with the exception of the Marine Corps and Coast Guard, which both use the
Navy's medal. The Medal of Honor is often presented personally to the recipient or, in the case of
posthumous awards, to survivors, by the President of the United States. Due to its high status,
the medal has special protection under U.S. law.
The Medal of Honor is one of only two military neck order awards issued by the United States
Armed Forces and the Medal of Honor is the only neck order issued to members of the U.S.
Armed Forces. The other is the Commander's Degree of the Legion of Merit and is only authorized
to be issued to foreign dignitaries usually equal to military chiefs of staff. While American military
personnel can be awarded the Legion of Merit, they are only allowed to be awarded the Legionnaire's
Degree which is a standard suspended medal.
The first formal system for rewarding acts of individual gallantry by American soldiers was
established by George Washington on August 7, 1782, when he created the Badge of Military
Merit, designed to recognize "any singularly meritorious action." This decoration is America's
first combat award and the second oldest American military decoration of any type, after the
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. In 1847, after the outbreak of the Mexican-American War, a Certificate of Merit
was established for soldiers who distinguished themselves in action. The certificate was later
granted medal status as the Certificate of Merit Medal.
Early in the Civil War, a medal for individual valor was proposed (by James W. Grimes) to
Winfield Scott, the Commanding General of the United States Army. Scott did not approve the
proposal, but the medal did come into use in the Navy. Public Resolution 82, containing a
provision for a Navy Medal of Valor, was signed into law by President Abraham Lincoln on
December 21, 1861. The medal was "to be bestowed upon such petty officers, seamen,
landsmen, and Marines as shall most distinguish themselves by their gallantry and other
seamanlike qualities during the present war."Secretary of the Navy Gideon Welles directed
the Philadelphia Mint to design the new decoration. Shortly afterward, a resolution of similar
wording was introduced on behalf of the Army and was signed into law on July 12, 1862. This
measure provided for awarding a Medal of Honor, as the Navy version also came to be called:
"to such noncommissioned officers and privates as shall most distinguish themselves by their
gallantry in action, and other soldier-like qualities, during the present insurrection."
The Medal of Honor has evolved in appearance since its creation in 1862. The present 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 by a hook to a light blue moired silk neckband that is 1 3/16 inches
in width and 21¾ inches in length.
There is a version of the medal for each branch of the U.S. armed forces: the Army, Navy and Air
Force. Since the U.S. Marine Corps is administratively a part of the Department of the Navy,
Marines receive the Navy medal. Before 1965, when the U.S. Air Force design was adopted,
members of the U.S. Army Air Corps, U.S. Army Air Forces, and Air Force received the Army
version of the medal.
The Coast Guard Medal of Honor, which was distinguished from the Navy medal in 1963, has never
been awarded, partly because the U.S. Coast Guard is subsumed into the U.S. Navy in time of
declared war. No design yet exists for it. Only one member of the Coast Guard has ever received
a Medal of Honor, Signalman 1st Class Douglas Munro, who was awarded the Navy version of the
medal for action during the Battle of Guadalcanal.
In the rare cases (19 thus far) where a service member has been awarded more than one Medal
of Honor, current regulations specify that an appropriate award device be centered on the Medal
of Honor ribbon and neck medal. To indicate multiple presentations of the Medal of Honor the
U.S. Army and Air Force bestow oak leaf clusters, while the Navy Medal of Honor is worn with
gold award stars.
A ribbon which is the same shade of light blue as the neckband, and includes five white stars,
pointed upwards, in the shape of an "M" is worn for situations other than full dress uniform.
When the ribbon is worn, it is placed alone, 1/4 inch above the center of the other ribbons. For
wear with civilian clothing, a rosette is issued instead of a miniature lapel pin (which usually
shows the ribbon bar). The rosette is the same shade of blue as the neck ribbon and includes
white stars. The ribbon and rosette are presented at the same time as the Medal.
On October 23, 2003, Pub.L. 107-248 was enacted, modifying 36 U.S.C. § 903, authorizing a
Medal of Honor flag to be presented to recipients of the decoration.
The flag was based on a concept by retired Army Special Forces 1SG. Bill Kendall of Jefferson,
Iowa, who designed a flag to honor Medal of Honor recipient Captain Darrell Lindsey, a B-26 pilot
killed in World War II who was also from Jefferson. Kendall's design of a light blue field
emblazoned with thirteen white five-pointed stars was nearly identical to that of Sarah LeClerc of
the Institute of Heraldry. LeClerc's design, ultimately accepted as the official flag, does not
include the words "Medal of Honor" and is fringed in gold. The color of the field and the 13 white
stars, arranged in the form of a three bar chevron, consisting of two chevrons of 5 stars and one
chevron of 3 stars, replicate the Medal of Honor' ribbon. The flag has no set proportions.
The first Medal of Honor recipient to receive the official flag was Paul R. Smith. The flag was cased
and presented to his family along with his Medal. A special ceremony presenting this flag to
60 Medal of Honor recipients was held onboard the USS Constitution on September 30, 2006.
There are two distinct means for awarding 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 of Congress. In either case, the Medal of Honor is
presented by the President on behalf of the Congress. Although commonplace, the term
"Congressional Medal of Honor" is not correct. The Congressional Medal of Honor Society is so
named because that is the name it was given in an act of Congress signed into law by President
Eisenhower on August 5, 1958 as 36 U.S.C. § 33. The law authorizing the society has since been
transferred to Title 36, Chapter 405 of the U.S. Code.
A year after President Abraham Lincoln signed Public Resolution 82 into law on December 21, 1861,
a similar resolution for the Army was passed. Six Union soldiers who hijacked the General, a
Confederate locomotive were the first recipients. Raid leader James J. Andrews, a civilian hanged
as a Union spy, did not receive the medal because it was originally awarded 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, no other military
award was authorized, which explains some of the less notable actions that were recognized by the
Medal of Honor. The criteria for award tightened after World War I. In the post-World War II era,
many eligible recipients might instead have been awarded a Silver Star, Navy Cross or similar
During the Civil War, Secretary of War Edwin M. Stanton 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 four days extra, and then were discharged. Due to confusion, Stanton awarded a
Medal of Honor to all 864 men in the regiment.
In 1916, a board of five Army generals convened by law to review every Army Medal of Honor
awarded. The commission, led by Nelson Miles, recommended that the Army rescind 911 medals.
This included the 864 medals awarded to members of the 27th Maine, 29 who served as Abraham
Lincoln's funeral guard, six civilians (including Dr Mary Edwards Walker, the only woman to have
been awarded the medal, and Buffalo Bill Cody), and 12 others whose awards were judged frivolous.
Dr. Walker's medal was restored posthumously by President Jimmy Carter in 1977. Cody's award
was restored in 1989.
Early in the 20th century the Navy awarded many Medals of Honor for peacetime bravery. For
instance, seven sailors aboard the USS Iowa received the medal when a boiler exploded on
January 25, 1904. Aboard the USS Chicago in 1901, John Henry Helms received the medal for
saving Ishi Tomizi, the ship's cook, from drowning. Even after World War I, Richard Byrd and Floyd
Bennett received the medal 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
Between 1919 and 1942, the Navy issued two separate versions of the Medal of Honor, one for
non-combat bravery and the other for combat-related acts. Official accounts vary, but presumably
the combat Medal of Honor was known as the "Tiffany Cross", after the company that manufactured
the medal. "The Tiffany" was first issued in 1919, but was rare and unpopular, partly because it was
presented both for combat and noncombat events. As a result, in 1942 the United States Navy
reverted to a single Medal of Honor, awarded only for heroism.
Since the beginning of World War II, the medal has been awarded for extreme bravery beyond the
call of duty while engaged in action against an enemy. Arising from these criteria, approximately
60% of the medals earned during and after World War II have been awarded posthumously. Capt.
William McGonagle is an exception to the enemy action rule, earning his medal during the USS
Liberty incident, which the Israeli government claimed was friendly fire.
A 1993 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. Of these, only Vernon Baker was still alive. A similar study of Asian Americans in
1998 resulted in President Bill Clinton awarding 21 new Medals of Honor in 2000, including 20 to
Japanese American members of the 442nd Regimental Combat Team (one of whom was Senator
Daniel Inouye). In 2005, President George W. Bush awarded the Medal of Honor to Jewish veteran
and Holocaust survivor Tibor Rubin, who many believed to have been previously overlooked
because of his religious beliefs.
The U.S. Army Medal of Honor was first authorized by a joint resolution of Congress on July 12,
1862. The specific authorizing statute was 10 U.S.C. § 3741, effective January 26, 1998:
“ 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
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, Marines, and airmen—even higher-ranking officers up to the
President of the United States—initiate the salute. In the event of an officer encountering an enlisted
member of the military who has been awarded the Medal of Honor, officers by tradition salute not
the person, but the medal itself, thus attempting to time their salute to coincide with the enlisted
members'. 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 the special pension of $1027 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
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 receive a 10% increase in retired pay under 10 U.S.C. § 3991.
Those awarded the Medal after October 23, 2002 also receive a Medal of Honor Flag. The law also
specifies that all 143 living Medal of Honor recipients receive the flag along with all future recipients.
(14 U.S.C. § 505).
As with all medals, retired personnel may wear the Medal of Honor on "appropriate" civilian clothing.
Regulations also 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.
Until late 2006, the Medal of Honor was the only service decoration singled out in federal law to
protect it from being imitated or privately sold. The Stolen Valor Act of 2005, enacted December
20, 2006, extended some of these protections to other military awards as well. Now, any false
verbal, written or physical claim to an award or decoration authorized for wear by authorized military
members or veterans is a federal felony.
All Medals of Honor are issued in the original only, by the Department of Defense, to a recipient.
Misuse of the medal, including unauthorized manufacture or wear, is punishable by fine and
imprisonment pursuant to (18 U.S.C. § 704)(b), which prescribes a harsher penalty than that for
violations concerning other medals. After the Army redesigned its 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 Edward Fedora and Gisela Fedora were charged with violating (18 U.S.C. § 704)(b) -
Unlawful Sale of a Medal of Honor. They sold medals awarded to U.S. Navy Seaman Robert Blume
(for action during the Spanish-American War) and to U.S. Army First Sergeant George Washington
Roosevelt (for action during the Civil War) to an FBI agent. Edward Fedora, a Canadian
businessman, pleaded guilty and was sentenced to prison; Gisela Fedora's status is unknown.
Under United States Code, (18 U.S.C. § 704)(b), it is illegal to wear the Medal of Honor without
authorization, but one can still legally claim to be a recipient unless such a claim is made with the
intent of securing veteran benefits. A number of veterans' organizations and private companies
devote themselves to exposing those who falsely claim to have received the Medal of Honor.
Imposters are said to outnumber true Medal of Honor recipients.
HLI Lordship Industries Inc., a former Medal of Honor contractor, was fined in 1996 for selling 300
fake Medals for $75 each.
In total, 3,463 medals have been awarded to 3,444 different people. Nineteen men received a second
award: 14 of these received two separate Medals for two separate actions, and five received both
the Navy and the Army Medals of Honor for the same action. Since the beginning of World War II,
852 Medals of Honor have been awarded, 526 posthumously. In total, 616 had their Medals
presented posthumously. The last award was on February 26, 2007.
The Army Medal of Honor was first awarded to Private Jacob Parrott during the American Civil War
for his role in the Andrews Raid; the most recent medal was awarded on February 26, 2007 to
retired U.S. Army pilot Lieutenant Colonel Bruce P. Crandall, for actions that occurred on November
14, 1965, in Vietnam at LZ X-Ray. The only female Medal of Honor recipient 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.
While current regulations, (10 U.S.C. § 6241), beginning in 1918, explicitly state that recipients
must be serving in the U.S. Armed Forces at the time of performing a valorous act that warrants
the award of the Medal of Honor, exceptions have been made. For example, Mary Walker worked
as a military contractor, and Charles Lindbergh, while a reserve member of the U.S. Army Air
Corps, received his Medal of Honor as a civilian pilot. In addition, the Medal of Honor was presented
to the British Unknown Warrior by General Pershing on October 17, 1921; later the U.S. Unknown
Soldier was reciprocally awarded the Victoria Cross, Britain's highest award for gallantry, on
November 11, 1921. Apart from these few exceptions, Medals of Honor can only be awarded to
members of the U.S. armed forces - although being a U.S. citizen is not a prerequisite. Sixty-one
Canadians who were serving in the United States armed forces have been awarded the Medal of
Honor, with a majority awarded for actions in the American Civil War. Since 1900, only four have
been awarded to Canadians. In the Vietnam War, Peter C. Lemon was the only Canadian
recipient of the Medal of Honor.
The Medal of Honor has been awarded only four times, all of them posthumously, for actions
occurring since the withdrawal of US forces from Vietnam in 1973. The first two were earned by
Sergeant First Class Randy Shughart and Master Sergeant Gary Gordon, who were defending
downed Black Hawk helicopter pilot Chief Warrant Officer Michael Durant and his crew during the
Battle of Mogadishu in 1993. The others were awarded during the Iraq Campaign. In 2005, a
posthumous Medal of Honor awarded to Sergeant First Class Paul R. Smith for actions in Operation
Iraqi Freedom was presented to his survivors. In April 2003, Smith killed over 50 Iraqis near Baghdad
International Airport, while providing cover for an aid station full of wounded Americans to evacuate.
On January 11, 2007, President George W. Bush awarded Marine Corporal Jason Dunham of Scio,
New York, the Medal of Honor posthumously for his bravery in Iraq during a combat mission during
which he threw himself on a grenade to save his fellow Marines during an action near the Syrian
border in April 2004.
The most recent awarding of the Medal of Honor occurred on February 26, 2007, when President
George W. Bush bestowed the medal on retired Army Lieutenant Colonel Bruce P. Crandall for his
actions during the Vietnam War. Crandall's award was an upgrade of the Distinguished Service
Cross he received for heroism during the Battle of Ia Drang in November 1965.
Civil War 1,522
Indian Wars 426
Korean Expedition 15
Spanish-American War 110
Samoan Civil War 4
Philippine Insurrection 86
Boxer Rebellion 59
Mexican Expedition 56
Haiti (1915–1934) 8
Dominican Republic Occupation 3
World War I 124
Occupation of Nicaragua 2
World War II 464
Korean War 132
Vietnam War 246
Battle of Mogadishu 2
Iraq Campaign 2
Unknown or classified 9
By branch of service
Air Force 17
Coast Guard 1
The following United States decorations bear similar names to the Medal of Honor, but are separate
awards with different criteria for issuance.
Cardenas Medal of Honor: decoration of the Revenue Cutter Service, merged into the United States
Chaplain's Medal of Honor: awarded posthumously for a single action to four recipients
Congressional Gold Medal
Congressional Space Medal of Honor: despite its name, not equal to the Medal of Honor
Presidential Medal of Freedom
Several United States law enforcement decorations also bear the name "Medal of Honor". The Public
Safety Officer Medal of Valor, established by Congress in 2001, "the highest national award for valor
by a public safety officer", is also awarded by the President, as is the highest civilian honor of all,
the Presidential Medal of Freedom.
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