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The Medal of Honor


Air Force Medal of Honor
Air Force Medal of Honor

Army Medal of Honor
Army Medal of Honor

Navy Medal of Honor
Navy Medal of Honor

The first formal system for rewarding acts of individual gallantry by the nation's fighting men was established by General George Washington on August 7, 1782. Designed to recognize "any singularly meritorious action," the award consisted of a purple cloth heart. Records show that only three persons received the award: Sergeant Elijah Churchill, Sergeant William Brown, and Sergeant Daniel Bissel Jr.

The Badge of Military Merit, as it was called, fell into oblivion until 1932, when General Douglas MacArthur, then Army Chief of Staff, pressed for its revival. Officially reinstituted on February 22, 1932, the now familiar Purple Heart was at first an Army award, given to those who had been wounded in World War I or who possessed a Meritorious Service Citation Certificate. In 1943, the order was amended to include personnel of the Navy, Marine Corps, and Coast Guard. Coverage was eventually extended to include all services and "any civilian national" wounded while serving with the Armed Forces.

Although the Badge of Military Merit fell into disuse after the Revolutionary War, the idea of a decoration for individual gallantry remained through the early 1800s. In 1847, after the outbreak of the Mexican-American War, a "certificate of merit" was established for any soldier who distinguished himself in action. No medal went with the honor. After the Mexican-American War, the award was discontinued, which meant there was no military award with which to recognize the nation's fighting men.

Early in the Civil War, a medal for individual valor was proposed to General-in-Chief of the Army Winfield Scott. But Scott felt medals smacked of European affectation and killed the idea.

The medal found support in the Navy, however, where it was felt recognition of courage in strife was needed. 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."

Shortly after this, a resolution similar in wording was introduced on behalf of the Army. Signed into law July 12, 1862, the measure provided for awarding a medal of honor "to such noncommissioned officers and privates as shall most distinguish themselves by their gallantry in action, and other soldierlike qualities, during the present insurrection."

Although it was created for the Civil War, Congress made the Medal of Honor a permanent decoration in 1863.

Almost 3,400 men and one woman have received the award for heroic actions in the nation's battles since that time. Randall Shughart from Pennsylvania was the last to received the Congressional Medal of Honor posthumously for his extraordinary valor and heroism in Somalia.

Quoted from "Armed Forces Decorations and Awards," a publication of the American Forces Information Service. Copies of the pamphlet are available upon request (in print format only), via the "DefenseLINK

 

MEDAL OF HONOR BREAKDOWN (By War and Service as of 13 May 1997)  

Actlon  Total  Army  Navy  Marine  Air Force  Coast Guard  Posthumous 
Civil War 1,520 1,195  308 17  0 0  25
Indlan Wars 18611898  428 428  0 0  0 0  6
Korea 1871  15 0  9 6  0 0  0
Spanish American War  109 30  64 15  0 0  0
Philippines Samoa  91 70  12 9  0 0  1
Boxer Rebellion  59 4  22 33  0 0  1
Vera Cruz 1914  55 0  46 9  0 0  0
Haiti 1915  6 0  0 6  0 0  0
Dominican Republic  3 0  0 3  0 0  0
Haiti 1919-1920  2 0  0 2  0 0  0
Nicaragua 19271933  2 0  0 2  0 0  0
Peacetime 1865-1870  12 0  12 0  0 0  0
Peacetime 18711898  103 0  101 2  0 0  0
Peacetime 18991911  51 1  48 2  0 0  0
Peacetime 19151916  8 0  8 0  0 0  1
Peacetime 19201940  18 2  15 1  0 0  4
World War I  124 96  21 7  0 0  32
World War II  440 301  57 81  0 1 250
Korean War  131 78  7 42  4 0  93
Vietnam War  239 155  15 57  12 0  150
Somalia 1993  2 2  0 0  0 0  2
Unknown Soldiers  9 0  0 0  0 0  9
Total 3,427 2,362  745 294  16 1  574

 

These totals reflect the total number of Medals of Honor awarded. Nineteen (19) men received a second award: fourteen of these men received two separate Medals for two separate actions; five received both the Navy and the Army Medals of Honor for the same action. The total number of Medal of Honor recipients is 3,408.

Total Medals of Honor awarded: 3,427

Total number of Medal of Honor recipients: 3,408

Total number of double recipients: 19

Total number of enlisted personnel: 2,553

As of 13 May 1997, there are 169 living Medal of Honor recipients.

Source: Congressional Medal of Honor Society, 40 Patriots Point Rd, Mt Pleasant SC 29464

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