Medal of Honor: America's Highest Military Decoration

Medal of Honor recipients have long stood as exemplars of exceptional valor in the line of duty throughout history. This highest military award in the United States serves to recognize and immortalize these awe-inspiring acts of heroism.

But what exactly is the Medal of Honor, and what does it represent? In this comprehensive exploration, we’ll delve into the origin and evolution of this prestigious award, the inspiring stories of its recipients, and the unique design elements that set it apart from other top military awards and decorations.

Short Summary

  • The Medal of Honor is a symbol of bravery and sacrifice, awarded for extraordinary acts in military operations.

  • Its design has evolved over time to reflect its progression and the heroes it honors.

  • Notable recipients serve as an example of courage for future generations, with distinct designs representing each branch’s valor & sacrifice.

The Medal of Honor: A Symbol of Bravery and Sacrifice

A Medal of Honor recipient in uniform, saluting the flag

The Medal of Honor is more than just a decoration; it is the embodiment of bravery, patriotism, and sacrifice. Bestowed upon members of the United States Armed Forces who have demonstrated extraordinary acts of valor in military operations involving conflict, this prestigious award represents the pinnacle of recognition for courage under fire. To date, more than 3,400 Medals of Honor have been presented to those who have gone above and beyond the call of duty, risking their lives in the face of insurmountable odds to protect their comrades and their country.

The Medal of Honor is available in three distinct variants for each military department: the Army, the Naval Service (Navy, Marine Corps, and Coast Guard), and the Air and Space Forces. Each design is unique, symbolizing the bravery and sacrifice of the men and women who have earned this distinguished navy medal honor while facing an opposing armed force.

But how did this esteemed award come to be, and who decides who receives it?

Origin and Evolution

The Medal of Honor, a prestigious military decoration awarded for acts of valor in combat, representing the origin and evolution of this distinguished award

The Medal of Honor was born amidst the turmoil of the American Civil War. Congress first authorized the medal in 1861 for sailors and marines, with the Army’s version following in 1862. President Abraham Lincoln signed the bill into law, marking the beginning of a long and storied history for the nation’s highest military award. The first medals bore the inscription “Personal Valor” on the back, a testament to the qualities that would come to define the recipients of this esteemed honor.

Today, the Medal of Honor has three variants for each military department, each with its unique design and appearance. As the oldest continuously issued combat decoration of the United States Armed Forces, the Medal of Honor has evolved over the years, with changes in design and materials reflecting the progression of the award and the heroes it honors.

The “V” device, a small bronze letter “V” with serifs, once adorned the Medal of Honor, signifying an act of valor. However, in July 2014, the Department of Defense eliminated the authorization for the “V” device, further distinguishing the Medal of Honor from other military decorations.

Criteria for Awarding

The Medal of Honor is not a medal awarded very lightly. To receive this prestigious decoration, service members must demonstrate gallantry and intrepidity, taking risks that exceed the call of duty during military operations against an enemy or opposing force. As a testament to their heroism, approximately 20% of Medals of Honor are awarded posthumously, often to those who have made the ultimate sacrifice in conflicts such as the Vietnam War.

Some recipients, like Admiral Frank Friday Fletcher and his nephew, Admiral Frank Jack Fletcher, share a family connection, exemplifying the legacy of bravery that the Medal of Honor represents. These heroes, and countless others like them, serve as beacons of courage and selflessness, inspiring generations of service members to follow in their footsteps.

Stories of Heroism: Notable Medal of Honor Recipients

A picture of a Medal of Honor recipient receiving the award from Donald Trump, the President of the United States

The true impact of the Medal of Honor can be felt through the stories of the men and women who have earned it. These tales of heroism and sacrifice serve as a testament to the courage, selflessness, and determination that define the recipients of this prestigious award.

Take, for example, Army Cpl. Charles Frank Pendleton, who displayed exceptional leadership and valor while defending a key hill during an armed conflict reminiscent of a world war in the Korean War. Despite being outnumbered and outgunned by the opposing foreign force, Pendleton’s inspiring determination held the enemy at bay, ultimately sacrificing his own life to protect his fellow soldiers and friendly foreign forces engaged in the battle. His actions would posthumously earn him the Medal of Honor.

Another remarkable story is that of Sergeant First Class Paul R. Smith, who was awarded the Medal of Honor for his extraordinary acts of gallantry and intrepidity in the face of danger. Smith’s selfless actions saved the lives of his comrades and became an enduring symbol of the bravery for which the Medal of Honor stands.

These stories, and countless others like them, offer a glimpse into the incredible acts of heroism and sacrifice that have earned the Medal of Honor its place as the nation’s highest military award. It is through these tales that we can truly appreciate the extraordinary individuals who have earned this prestigious honor.

Design and Appearance of the Medal of Honor

The Medal of Honor, with its distinctive star-shaped design

Each of the three Medal of Honor variants has its unique design elements and materials, reflecting the distinct branches of the United States Armed Forces that they represent. The Army variant, for example, features a gold five-pointed star with Minerva’s head in the center, surrounded by a green laurel wreath and suspended from a gold bar inscribed “VALOR”, surmounted by an eagle.

The Naval variant consists of a five-pointed bronze star. It is tipped with trefoils, and contains a crown of laurel and oak. Minerva personifies the United States in the center. Her left hand rests on fasces and her right hand holds a shield embossed with the U.S. coat of arms. She is depicted as a repulsing discord, represented by snakes. The medal is suspended from the flukes of an anchor and crafted from solid red brass, which is then oxidized and buffed.

These unique designs of military medals serve as a constant reminder of the bravery and sacrifice of the men and women who have earned the nation’s highest military award, including the distinguished service cross.

The Medal of Honor Flag and Other Honors

A picture of the Medal of Honor Flag, with its distinctive blue and white stars

In addition to the Medal of Honor itself, recipients are also presented with the Medal of Honor Flag, a symbol of their extraordinary achievements and the respect they have earned. Designed by retired U.S. Army Special Forces First Sergeant Bill Kendall, the flag serves as a constant reminder of the incredible acts of valor that these heroes have demonstrated in the line of duty.

The U.S. was presented with the first Medal of Honor Flag. This flag is a symbol of bravery and dedication to the country. Paul R. is a sergeant first class in the Army. He is a highly decorated veteran. Smith during a special ceremony on board the USS Constitution. Since then, the flag has continued to serve as a symbol of the bravery, sacrifice, and honor that define the recipients of this prestigious award.

The National Medal of Honor Museum

A picture of the National Medal of Honor Museum, located in Arlington, Virginia

Set to open in 2025, the National Medal of Honor Museum will serve as a testament to the incredible acts of heroism and sacrifice that define the recipients of this esteemed military award. Located in Arlington, Texas, the museum will aim to inspire Americans through the stories and values of Medal of Honor recipients.

The National Medal of Honor Museum will not only showcase the remarkable stories of these heroes, but will also provide a place for reflection, education, and inspiration. Through its exhibits and programs, the museum will serve as a constant reminder of the incredible sacrifices that these brave individuals have made in the name of freedom and the values they embody.

As we eagerly await the opening of the National Medal of Honor Museum, let us remember the incredible acts of valor and sacrifice that have earned these men and women their place in history. Their stories will continue to inspire future generations, serving as an enduring testament to the power of bravery, patriotism, and selflessness.

Late Awards and Revoked Medals

The history of the Medal of Honor is marked not only by the incredible acts of heroism it celebrates, but also by the ongoing efforts to recognize deserving individuals and correct historical disparities in the awarding process. Late awards and revoked medals serve as a reminder that the pursuit of justice and recognition for these heroes is an ongoing process.

In 1916, a board of five Army generals convened to review every Army Medal of Honor awarded, identifying 911 awards for causes other than distinguished conduct. This review, predating World War II, underscores the importance of continually reassessing the criteria and recipients of this prestigious award, ensuring that it remains a true symbol of bravery, valor, and sacrifice.

Today, the process for awarding and recognizing Medal of Honor recipients continues to evolve, with revisions to criteria and awarding processes regularly being implemented. This ongoing commitment to honoring deserving individuals highlights the enduring significance of the Medal of Honor as a symbol of the highest military honor in the United States.

Medal of Honor and Similar U.S. Decorations

While the Medal of Honor stands as the highest military decoration in the United States, there are other U.S. decorations with similar names or criteria, such awarded medals as the National Defense Service Medal, Air Force Good Conduct Medal, and Army Good Conduct Medal. However, it is the Medal of Honor’s unique status as the only decoration conferred by the President on behalf of Congress, also known as the congressional medal, that sets it apart from these other awards.

The Medal of Honor represents the pinnacle of recognition for courage under fire, a testament to the bravery, sacrifice, and selflessness of the men and women who have earned it. As we honor and remember these heroes, let us not forget the incredible acts of valor and the ideals they embody, which continue to inspire generations of service members to follow in their footsteps.

Summary

Throughout this exploration of the Medal of Honor, we have delved into the history, design, and significance of this prestigious award, honoring the incredible acts of heroism and sacrifice that define its recipients. From its origins during the Civil War to the inspiring stories of the brave men and women who have earned it, the Medal of Honor serves as a constant reminder of the extraordinary valor that exists within the United States Armed Forces.

As we reflect on the legacy of the Medal of Honor and its recipients, let us remember the values they embody: bravery, patriotism, and selflessness. It is these values that inspire future generations of service members and continue to make the Medal of Honor a symbol of the highest military honor in the United States.

Frequently Asked Questions

How do you get Medal of Honor?

The Medal of Honor is the nation’s highest military award, granted to individuals who demonstrate conspicuous gallantry and intrepidity in combat above and beyond the call of duty. It can be awarded for acts of valor performed while engaged in action against an enemy of the United States or in military operations involving conflict with an opposing foreign force.

Who was the last person to receive the Medal of Honor?

The most recent recipient of the Medal of Honor was Army Spc. Ross McGinnis, awarded posthumously in June 2008 for his service in Iraq.

How much money do you get for a Medal of Honor?

Recipients of the Medal of Honor are granted a tax-free pension of $1,618.95 per month, in addition to any other benefits they may be eligible for. Enlisted recipients additionally receive a uniform allowance.

Do Medal of Honor recipients get anything?

Yes, Medal of Honor recipients receive a special monthly pension, travel on military aircraft on space-available basis, have access to base commissaries, and are guaranteed burial at Arlington National Cemetery and admission for their children to military service academies.

These benefits are a small token of appreciation for the sacrifices these individuals have made for their country.

How rare is the Congressional Medal of Honor?

The Medal of Honor is the highest award for valor bestowed upon America’s armed forces, with only 3,530 awards given to 3,511 individuals since its creation in 1861.

Consequently, it is an exceptionally rare and highly coveted distinction for military veterans.

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