There are many awards one can earn in the military; the most prestigious of these is the Congressional Medal of Honor. This award is given by the president of the United States in the name of the United States Congress. Since the award’s creation in 1861, it has been awarded more than 3,500 times to distinguished soldiers, marines, coast guardsmen, sailors, and airmen from nearly every military conflict in which America has been engaged. 19 of these recipients were second-time receivers of the award. The Congressional Medal of Honor stands apart from its Army, Navy, and Air Force counterparts, such as the Army Medal of Honor established in 1862 and the Navy Medal of Valor established in 1861. However, “Medal of Honor” is the award’s official name, and it is referred to as such within United States Code.
What Does the Congressional Medal of Honor Represent?
Recipients of the Congressional Medal of Honor are those who have performed acts of valor that reach above and beyond the call of duty. Normally, these individuals were wounded or even killed in the effort of defending freedom and furthering the cause of the United States military in whatever place around the world they were serving. Because of this, the Congressional Medal of Honor has often been bestowed posthumously upon fallen heroes who demonstrated incredible valor while alive. It wasn’t until November of 2010 when Army Staff Sergeant Salvatore Giunta was given the award that it was bestowed on a living person. For the forty years prior to 2010, all Medals of Honor had been given posthumously.
The Congressional Medal of Honor also comes with many benefits, including a pension of about a thousand dollars per month (in addition to any other pensions they may be receiving), an entitlement to Space A air transportation, additional uniform allowances, privileges regarded commissaries and exchanges, a ten percent increase in retirement pay, their own Medal of Honor flag, and permission to wear their uniform whenever they like, so long as they abide by the usual regulations. Additionally, the children of Medal of Honor recipients, if they qualify, can be admitted to United States military academies without meeting the quota or nomination requirements.
Medal of Honor Restrictions
Although there are obviously no gender restrictions related to the Medal of Honor, only one woman in history has received it: Mary Edwards Walker, who served as a surgeon during the Civil War. Currently, the law states that in order to receive the medal, you must be actively serving in the U.S. armed forces. However, you don’t necessarily have to be a citizen of the United States, and a few reserve military members and even civilians have received the Medal of Honor on occasion, such as Charles Lindbergh, who was serving in the Army Air Corps Reserve and was a civilian pilot when he received it. The Medal of Honor has also been bestowed on anonymous heroes such as the British Unknown Soldier and the U.S. Unknown Soldier, the latter of which was also given the Victoria Cross, the highest award for valor in Britain’s military. During the American Civil War, around 60 Canadians serving in the U.S. armed forces were given the Medal of Honor, but very few have received it since, with only 4 in 1990 and just 1 during the Vietnam War.
Medal of Honor Recipients by Major Conflicts
Here’s a condensed overview of major military conflicts in which the United States has been involved and the individuals who were given the Medal of Honor for their service during each. For a complete list of all recipients of the Medal of Honor, visit this webpage. You can also view a list of all living Medal of Honor recipients here.
The American Civil War
It was during the Civil War that the Congressional Medal of Honor as we know it today was established, and it was awarded to 1,523 individuals for acts of bravery during combat. 33 of these bestowals were posthumous. In the late 2000s, a couple of late Medals of Honor were posthumously granted to Civil War veterans Andrew Jackson Smith and Alonzo Cushing.
The Indian Wars
The Indian Wars refers to a period of conflict between members of the United States military and the indigenous American peoples. For these battles, 426 American soldiers were given the Medal of Honor, 13 posthumously. Of these, about 20 recipients were, ironically, participants in the Wounded Knee Massacre.
Spanish American War, Samoan Civil War, and Philippine-American War
During these conflicts with Spain, Samoa, and the Philippines, about 200 Medals of Honor were given out in total, most to members of the Army. One of them was the son of U.S. President Rutherford B. Hayes. It was during the Philippine-American War that the Medal of Honor was first given to an Asian person: Jose B. Nisperos, who served as a member of the Philippine Scouts.
World War I
In a war that took nearly 40 million lives, 126 men were awarded the Medal of Honor. Five of these were Marines who, for the same brave deed, received both the Army and Navy versions of the medal.
World War II
471 members of the United States military were given the Medal of Honor during World War II. Almost half of these were posthumous bestowals. 42 of these medals were presented as the result of just two battles: the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor in Hawaii, and the Battle of Iwo Jima. Despite the racial tensions of the time, 21 Medals of Honor were given to members of the all-Japanese-American 100th Infantry Battalion of the 442nd Regimental Combat Team. It was also during World War II that the medal was given to a member of the Coast Guard, the only time this has happened to date.
During the Korean War, 145 Medals of Honor were given out. 107 of these were posthumous.
During and after the Vietnam War, the president awarded 235 Medals of Honor, and an additional 22 have been given out since 1978 for acts during the Vietnam War, bringing the grand total to 257. The United States Army claimed 171 of these awards, while 15 were given to members of the Navy, 57 to Marines, and 14 to Airmen. These medals were given to a number of brave and selfless men, including Roger Donlon who rescued a number of wounded soldiers, Milton L. Olive III, an African American who fell on a grenade and saved the lives of his comrades, and Riley L. Pitts, the first commissioned African American officer to receive the medal during the Vietnam conflicts. Thomas Bennett, a medic and conscientious objector, was also awarded the Medal of Honor for his service, as were three chaplains.
13 troops have received the Medal of Honor for their efforts in the War in Afghanistan, which began at the turn of the century. Three of these medals have been posthumously given. Among these 13 were Army Sergeant First Class Jared C. Monti, who risked his life to rescue a fellow soldier; Navy Lieutenant Michael P. Murphy, who died fighting an insurgency which greatly outnumbered his team; Army Staff Sergeant Robert James Miller, who also died in combat; and Salvatore Giunta. In 2011, Sergeant First Class Leroy Petry became the second living recipient in forty years to receive the Medal of Honor, and Marine Corps Corporal Dakota Meyer became the third just a few years later after serving in the Battle of Ganjgal. Thankfully, the 7 remaining recipients after Meyer have all been living recipients.
Two United States soldiers, one marine and one sailor, have received Medals of Honor for their service in the Iraq War. Their names were Paul R. Smith, Corporal Jason Dunham (of the Marines), Specialist Ross A. McGinnis (of the Army), and Master-at-Arms Second Class Michael A. Monsoor (of the Navy). Smith was the only living recipient of the four. The rest—McGinnis, Dunham, and Monsoor—were given the Medal of Honor for smothering grenades with their bodies and saving the lives of numerous men and women.
The Ultimate Price for Freedom
As we reflect on these many wars and the countless American lives that have been lost, we at Low VA Rates are eternally grateful for the sacrifices made to ensure our freedoms. We’re thankful to the surviving families of those who died, and we invite everyone to join us in honoring the many recipients of the Congressional Medal of Honor.