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The Medal of Honor

The 3 Present Day Variations of the Medal Of Honor

Army Medal of Honor Navy Medal of Honor Air Force Medal of Honor

For conspicuous gallantry and intrepidity at the risk of life, above and beyond the call of duty, in action involving actual conflict with an opposing armed force.

The first military decoration formally authorized by the American government to be worn as a badge of honor, the Medal of Honor was created by an act of Congress in December 1861. On December 9, Iowa Senator James W. Grimes introduced S. No. 82 in the United States Senate, a bill designed to "promote the efficiency of the Navy" by authorizing the production and distribution of   "medals of honor". On December 21st the bill was passed, authorizing 200 such medals be produced "which shall be bestowed upon such petty officers, seamen, landsmen and marines as shall distinguish themselves by their gallantry in action and other seamanlike qualities during the present war (Civil War)." President Lincoln signed the bill and the (Navy) Medal of Honor was born.


Two months later on February 17, 1862 Massachusetts Senator Henry Wilson introduced a similar bill, this one to authorize "the President to distribute medals to privates in the Army of the United States who shall distinguish themselves in battle." Over the following months wording changed slightly as the bill made its way through Congress. When President Abraham Lincoln signed S.J.R. No. 82 on July 12, 1862, the Army Medal of Honor was born. It read in part


Resolved by the Senate and House of Representatives of the United States of America in Congress assembled, That the President of the United States be, and he is hereby, authorized to cause two thousand "medals of honor" to be prepared with suitable emblematic devices, and to direct that the same be presented, in the name of the Congress, to such non--commissioned officers and privates as shall most distinguish themselves by their gallantry in action, and other soldier-like qualities, during the present insurrection (Civil War).

With this simple and rather obscure act Congress created a unique award that would achieve prominence in American history like few others. The table below will acquaint you with a chronological time line of key events in the history of the Medal of Honor.


3 MAR 1847

Congress authorizes a "certificate of merit" be presented by the President when a "private soldier distinguishes himself in the service", along with additional pay of $2 per month.

13 FEB 1861

Army Assistant Surgeon Bernard J.D. Irwin rescues the 60 soldiers of 2d Lt. George Bascom's unit at Apache Pass, AZ. Though the Medal of Honor had not yet been proposed in Congress (and actually wouldn't even be presented to Irwin until 1894, it was the First heroic act for which the Medal of Honor would be awarded).

24 MAY 1861

In Alexandria, VA Army Private Francis Edwin Brownell performs the first action of the Civil War to merit the Medal of Honor

26 JUN 1861

Aboard the U.S.S. Pawnee, John Williams courage despite his wounds, his refusal to leave any man behind, and his love for the flag became the first act by a member of the U.S. Navy to merit the Medal of Honor.

21 JUL 1861

Eleven soldiers at the Battle of Bull Run perform actions that eventually will make them recipients of the Medal of Honor. The number includes Dr. Mary Walker who was involved in three major battles and became the ONLY woman to get the Medal.


In all, 25 soldiers and 5 sailors would perform Medal of Honor actions in the months from Bernard Irwin's first heroic act to the establishment of the Navy Medal in December.

9 DEC 1861

Iowa Senator James W. Grimes, chairman of the Senate Naval Committee, introduces S. No.82 in Congress to create a medal of honor to promote the efficiency of the Navy.

21 DEC 1861

President Abraham Lincoln approves the Congressional action to provide for 200 Navy Medals of Honor.

17 FEB 1862

Massachusetts Senator Henry Wilson introduces a bill in Congress to provide for an Army Medal of Honor for "privates in the Army of the United States who shall distinguish themselves in battle."

12 APR 1862

Civilian spy James J. Andrews and 19 volunteers begin their "Great Locomotive Chase" behind enemy lines in Georgia.

12 MAY 1862

At Drewry's Bluff, VA aboard the U.S.S. Galena, Corporal John Mackie became the first Marine to earn the Medal of Honor. When he received the award aboard the U.S.S. Seminole on 10 July 1863 he became the first Marine to also receive the award.

18 JUN 1862

Seven of Andrew's Raiders are hanged as spies in Atlanta. Four of them will eventually be awarded Medals of Honor...the first to die in their moment of heroism.

12 JUL 1862

President Lincoln approves the legislation authorizing the preparation of 2,000 Medals of Honor to "be presented, in the name of the Congress, to such non-commissioned officers and privates as shall most distinguish themselves by their gallantry in action, and other soldier-like qualities." Already 88 soldiers have performed heroic actions that will be ultimately awarded Medals of Honor.

17 SEP 1862

Twenty U.S. Army soldiers perform heroic acts at Antietam that would eventually become recognized by Medal of Honor presentations.

13 DEC 1862

At Fredericksburg, VA, Nineteen soldiers perform Medal of Honor actions.

3 MAR 1863

The Act of 3 March 1863 extended the presentations of the Army Medal of Honor to officers, as well as non-commissioned officers and privates. (The Navy medal continued to be reserved for enlisted personnel ONLY.)

25 MAR 1863

Secretary of War Edwin Stanton presents the first Medals of Honor to six of the surviving members of Andrew's Raiders. They are the first Medals ever presented.

3 APR 1863

The Navy presents its first Medals of Honor to 41 sailors, 17 of them for actions in the attacks at Forts Jackson and St. Philip (24 Apr 1862).

22 May 1863

Ninety-six soldiers perform Medal of Honor actions at Vicksburg, Mississippi....the highest one day total in the Medals entire history. In all, 120 Medals of Honor were earned at Vicksburg.

30 JUN 1863

Approximately 300 of the 864 members of the 27th Maine agree to remain to guard Washington, DC after their enlistment had expired. In return Secretary of War Edwin Stanton submitted the entire group of volunteers for Medals of Honor. A typographical error resulted in all 864 of the 27th Maine's soldiers being awarded Medals of Honor for their extra 4 days of service. (All were revoked in the purge of 1917).

1 JUL 1863

Four days of battle at Gettysburg added 58 Medals of Honor to the war total.

18 JUL 1863

At Fort Wagner, SC the 54th Massachusetts Colored Infantry faced their first major test of combat. Former slave William Harvey Carney became the first African-American to earn the Medal of Honor.

5 AUG 1864

Ninety-eight service members received Medals of Honor for actions this day at Mobile Bay, Alabama. The total included 90 sailors and 8 Marines.

2 APR 1865

Fifty-two soldiers earn Medals of Honor at Petersburg, VA.

6 APR 1865

Fifty-six soldiers earn Medals of Honor at Deatonsville (Sailor's Creek), VA. Among them on this day was 2d Lt. Thomas Custer (yes, he was the brother of the famous General Custer) who earned his SECOND Medal of Honor, becoming the ONLY ARMY MAN in the Civil War to receive TWO.

11 APR 1865

General Lee surrenders at Appomattox Courthouse and the Civil War ends.

19 APR 1865

In the week following Lee's surrender 8 more Medals of Honor were earned, 7 of them at Columbus, GA. The 9th and last Medal of Honor of the Civil War was earned on April 19th at Greensboro, NC by Charles Malone Betts.

12 May 1865

In Nebraska Army Private Frank W. Lohnes becomes the first official Medal of Honor recipient of the Indian Campaigns, his action preceded only by Bernard Irwin's 4 years earlier. His award is presented just two months after his action.

11 NOV 1865

Rather than grant Dr. Mary Walker's request for a commission in the U.S. Army, President Johnson orders that she be given the Medal of Honor. (The award was revoked in the purge of 1917, then restored in 1977).

31 DEC 1865

680 of the eventual 1520 total Medals awarded for Civil War actions (not counting those of the 27th Maine), have been presented. From 1866 to 1890 a total of 105 more will be awarded. From 1890 to 1899 more Medals will be awarded for Civil War action than were awarded during the war...a total of 683 in the last decade of the century.

1865 - 1891

During the period from the end of the Civil War to New Years Day, 1891 all but two of the 242 Medals of Honor awarded for the Indian Campaigns were earned. The exceptions were the earlier award to Irwin, and the last action which occurred on 5 OCT 1898.

9 JUN 1871

Three sailors earn Medals of Honor for action in Korea. These were the first Medals of Honor earned on foreign soil. Over the following two days twelve more Americans earn Medals of honor...9 sailors and 6 Marines in all.


Due to the large number of men submitted for Medals of Honor after the Battle of the Little Big Horn, a review board of officers was assembled to consider the requests. The number was pared down to 24 men, and a "new standard" was applied that "the conduct which deserves such recognition should not be the simple discharge of duty, but such acts beyond this that if omitted or refused to be done, should not justly subject the person to censure as a shortcoming or failure."

23 APR 1890

The MEDAL OF HONOR LEGION is established to protect the integrity of the Medal.

2 MAY 1896

Congress approved legislation authorizing "a rosette or knot to be worn in lieu of the medal, and a ribbon to be worn with the medal." (20 Stat. 473)

10 NOV 1896

For the first time a change is made in the design of the Medal of Honor. The change is only in the suspension ribbon and affects only the Army's Medal of Honor.

26 JUN 1897

With more than 700 Civil War soldiers applying for Medals of Honor since 1890, President William McKinley had directed the Army to establish new policies regarding Medal of Honor applications and awards. Published on this date the new regulations:
...Established that Medals of Honor could only be awarded for "gallantry and intrepidity" above and beyond that of one's fellow soldiers,
...Required that a submission for the Medal of Honor be made by a person other than the veteran who had performed the heroic deed,
...Required the testimony, under oath, of one or more eyewitnesses to the heroic deed.
...Set a time limit of one year for any person to be submitted for the Medal of Honor for an act occurring after 26 June 1897.

1 FEB 1898

The Army issues proper instruction for display of the Medal of Honor suspended from a ribbon hung around the neck of the recipient. (For the next half century Army Medals of Honor were sometimes displayed in this fashion, at other times pinned to the tunic of a soldier's uniform.)

15 FEB 1898

The U.S.S. Maine mysteriously explodes in Havana Harbor killing 258 American soldiers and launching the Spanish-American War. From 1 May to 26 July, 109 soldiers, sailors and Marines earned Medals of Honor. All but 12 were awarded within a year of the war's end.

1 APR 1899

Three Marines and one Sailor earn Medals of Honor in Samoa.

20 JUN 1900

Twenty-nine service members earn Medals of Honor in China (the Boxer Rebellion) in a campaign that will see 30 more awards for heroism by August 14th.

21 SEP 1901

Secretary of War Eli Root appoints a board headed by Civil War medal recipient Major General Arthur MacArthur to review Medal of Honor submissions from the Spanish American War and the continuing conflict in the Philippine Islands.

19 APR 1902

U.S. War Department Special Orders No. 93, Paragraph 14 continues the board appointed by Eli Root "for the purpose of examining applications and recommendations for Medals of Honor and Certificates of Merit.

23 APR 1904

Congress authorizes a distinctive new design for the Army Medal of Honor, the brainchild of General George Gillespie who had received the Medal of Honor during the Civil War. The new "Gillespie Medal" retains the star shape but surrounds it with a green laurel. The Medal is suspended from a newly designed blue ribbon bearing 13 stars from a bar on which is printed the word "VALOR". Upon authorizing the new Medal of Honor design, Congress requires Medal recipients to return their original Medals to be replaced with the new.

10 JAN 1906

In ceremonies at the White House, President Theodore Roosevelt presents the Medal of Honor to Spanish-American war hero James R. Church in keeping with his earlier Executive Order:
"The presentation of a Medal of Honor to an officer or enlisted man in the military service, awarded under the Joint Resolution of Congress approved July 12, 1863, will always be made with formal and impressive ceremony.
"The recipient will, when practicable, be ordered to Washington, D.C., and the presentation will be made by the President, as Commander-in-Chief, or by such representative as the President may designate.
"When not practicable to have the presentation at Washington, the details of time, place, and ceremony will be prescribed by the Chief of Staff for each case.
"On campaign, the presentation will be made by the Division or higher commander." (September 20, 1905)

27 FEB 1907

Recipients of the earlier designs for the Medal of Honor have shown reluctance to return their "old" medals for the new "Gillespie" medals because of the sentimental value their original award holds for them. In response Congress authorizes them to be issued the new design without turning in their original Medals and instructs that those who had previously turned in their Medals have them returned to them. The legislation specifies, however, that both Medals (original and Gillespie) can not be worn at the same time.


The Navy changes the ribbon from which their Medal of Honor is suspended to a blue ribbon with 13 white stars, similar to the design of the ribbon patented with Gillespie's Medal of Honor for the Army. Other slight changes in design are also made.

3 MAR 1915

Authorized the President to present "a suitable Medal of Honor to be awarded to any officer of the Navy, Marine Corps, or Coast Guard who shall have distinguished himself in battle or displayed extraordinary heroism in the line of his profession." Previously the award was reserved for enlisted personnel ONLY, but this act made it available to officers as well. (38 Stat. 928, 931)

24 Oct 1915

Three Marines earn Medals of Honor in Haiti. On the 17th of the following month three more Marines earn Medals of Honor in Haiti.

27 APR 1916

Congress passes legislation to establish "The Army and Navy Medal of Honor Roll" and authorizes a $10 monthly pension for Medal recipients over age 65.

3 JUN 1916

"A board to consist of five general officers on the retired list of the Army shall be convened...for the purpose of investigating and reporting upon past awards or issue of the so-called congressional medal of honor."

16 OCT 1916

The BOARD OF GENERALS authorized in the previous legislation convened under Lt. General Nelson Miles, a Medal recipient from the Civil War. General Miles had taken an active role in promoting legislation to protect the Medal as commander of the Medal of Honor Legion and approached the work of his committee with determination and dedication. Every award of the Army Medal of Honor since the Civil War was reviewed. The recipients were anonymous to the board, represented only by a number.

5 FEB 1917

The Medal of Honor review board released its findings, striking the names of 911 medal recipients from the honor roll. The stricken names included all the medals awarded to the 27th Maine, 29 members of President Lincoln's funeral guard, and six civilians (whose courage the board did not deny, but who were ruled ineligible for the Medal due their civilian status). Five of the civilians were scouts from the Indian Campaigns including Buffalo Bill Cody. The sixth was Civil War Assistant Surgeon Mary Walker. Though she had participated in major campaigns from Bull Run to Chickamauga, even endured three months as a Confederate prisoner of war, her civilian status denied her continued recognition as a Medal of Honor recipient.

17 APR 1917

The last Medals of Honor awarded for Civil War action are presented to Henry Lewis and Henry Peters, bringing to a close the controversial and divisive scramble of Civil War vets for the coveted award, and opening the way for new legislative protections.

23 JUN 1917

Commander Willis Winter Bradley, Jr. aboard the U.S.S. Pittsburgh becomes the first Medal of Honor recipient of World War I. In all 119 soldiers, sailors, marines, and for the first time AIRMEN performed heroism meriting their Nation's highest award over the following two years. Only 4 such awards were actually presented during the period of the war, the remainder came as a result of a review of World War I awards of the Distinguished Service Cross at the request of General John J. Pershing. The last presentation of a World War I Medal of Honor would not occur until the closing decade of the century.

9 JUL 1918

The Medal of Honor was born in 1862, but it was the act of 9 July 1918 that defined the future of the award, while further eliminated the Certificate of Merit while establishing the new "Pyramid of Honor" providing for lesser awards (The Distinguished Service Cross, The Distinguished Service Medal, and the Silver Star). A key difference between the levels of awards was spelled out, "That the President is authorized to present, in the name of the Congress, a medal of honor only to each person who, while an officer or enlisted man of the Army, shall hereafter, in action involving actual conflict with an enemy, distinguish himself conspicuously by gallantry and intrepidity at the risk of his life above and beyond the call of duty." The lesser awards were authorized for presentation by the President, "BUT NOT IN THE NAME OF CONGRESS."

The act of July 9th further established time limits to avoid problems like those encountered with Civil War veterans seeking the award. Recommendations for Medals of Honor had to be made within 2 years of the act of heroism for which it was to be awarded, and the Medal was to be presented within 3 years.

The act of July 9th was further clarified in September, then again in February 1919, to stipulate that no person could receive more than ONE Medal of Honor. Previously there had been 19 DOUBLE AWARDS of the Medal, but hereafter, while there were provisions for second and consecutive awards of lesser medals to be made and noted with appropriate ribbon devices, no more than ONE Medal of Honor could be awarded.

3 MAY 1919

Six months after the end of World War I the Medal of Honor is presented in France to Sergeant Alvin C. York. It was a historic event for the Medal not so much at the time but for the legendary status its recipients would receive in the years to follow.

7 DEC 1941

Five minutes before Japanese aircraft fell upon Pearl Harbor, the air field at Kaneohe Bay, Hawaii was attacked. There Navy Lieutenant John Finn earned the first Medal of Honor of World War II. Fourteen more sailors earned Medals of Honor that day at Pearl Harbor, ten of them posthumously.

7 AUG 1942

The TIFFANY CROSS established for non-combat naval heroism in 1942 had proven unpopular, perhaps because it so closely resembled the German Iron Cross. It was also poorly regulated and documented. The Act of August 7th restored the earlier provisions of the Navy Medal of Honor for non-combat heroism and eliminated the Tiffany Cross and the two-medal system.

27 SEP 1942

At Guadalcanal Canadian Born Douglas Munro becomes the first, and ONLY, member of the U.S. Coast Guard to receive the Medal of Honor. Munro was killed in action during his moment of valor.

23 MAY 1943

In the frozen Aleutian Islands of Alaska, Colorado's Private Joseph P. Martinez becomes the first Hispanic-American to receive the Medal of Honor during World War II. His posthumous award was the first act for combat heroism on American soil (other than the 15 at Pearl Harbor) since the Indian Campaigns.

10 NOV 1943

In Italy, Arkansas football star and Detroit Lion Pro Captain Maurice "Footsie" Britt earns the Medal of Honor. Having already earned the DSC and the Silver Star, it is the first time in military history that a soldier earned all of the military's top awards in a single war.


5 APR 1945

Japanese-American boys had struggled long to prove their loyalty to the United States despite paranoia and prejudice at home. The 442d Infantry Regiment built an impressive record of valor. On this day PFC Sadao S. Munemori became the only Japanese-American of the war to earn his Nation's highest honor. His Medal of Honor, presented posthumously to his mother, is on display at the Smithsonian Institution in Washington, D.C.

29 JUL 1945

In the Philippine Island's Army Corporal Melvin Mayfield earns the last Medal of Honor of World War II.


16 SEPT 1948


The Congressional Medal of Honor Society is incorporated.

20 JUL 1950

General William F. Dean and George Dalton Libby earn the first Medals of Honor of the Korean War. Libby was killed in action and General Dean was taken as a Prisoner of War.

5 AUG 1950

The United States Air Force was born on July 26, 1947 when President Truman signed the National Security Act of 1947. On this date in 1950 Louis Sebille became the first flier of the now separate AIR FORCE to earn the Medal of Honor. In all, FOUR Air Force officers received Medals of Honor for action in Korea...all of them posthumous awards. (These four men, as had members of the earlier Air Service and Army Air Corps, were awarded Army Medals of Honor.)

25 JUL 1953

Ambrosio Guillen becomes the last of 131 Americans to receive the Medal of Honor in Korea. Guillen's posthumous award was one of 94 awarded to heroes killed during their moment of valor in Korea.

10 AUG 1956

Legislation is authorized providing members of the United States Air Force with their own, distinctive design for an Air Force Medal of Honor separate from that of the Navy and Army.

14 AUG 1958

The Medal of Honor Society is absorbed into the Congressionally Chartered CONGRESSIONAL MEDAL OF HONOR SOCIETY OF THE UNITED STATES OF AMERICA under Title 38, USC.

25 JUL 1963

Congress amended Titles 10 and 14 of the US Code establishing criteria and guidelines for award of the Medal of Honor:
...It would be awarded for action against an enemy of the United States,
...while engaged in military operations involving conflict with an opposing foreign force, or
...while serving with friendly forces (such as was the case with the UN forces in Korea) in an armed conflict against an opposing armed force in which the United States is not a belligerent party.

13 OCT 1964

Changes in Medal of Honor legislation provided for a $100 per month pension for Medal of Honor recipients over the age of 50.

17 DEC 1964

Army Special Forces Captain Roger Donlon becomes the first Medal of Honor hero of the Vietnam war.


The AIR FORCE introduces the design for their distinctive Air Force Medal of Honor, similar in design to that of the Army Medal of Honor only larger and displaying the head of the Statue of Liberty and other design changes. Each branch of service, Army, Navy/Marines/Coast Guard, and Air Force now has its own medal design. All three branches display the Medal suspended below a neck ribbon.

10 MAR 1966

In Vietnam, Bernard Francis Fisher becomes the first airman to earn the Air Force's newly designed Medal of Honor. In all, 12 USAF servicemen received Medals of Honor including John Levitow, the first enlisted man to receive the award.

31 OCT 1972

Navy SEAL Michael Thornton performs the last Medal of Honor action of the Vietnam war, saving the life of his SEAL Team Leader Lt. Tommy Norris. Six months earlier Norris had been submitted for the Medal of Honor for heroic actions to rescue downed pilots. It was the first time since the battle at the Citadel in Korea in 1871 that a Medal of Honor was awarded for saving the life of a Medal of Honor recipient. (This, though Norris did not receive his award until 1976.)

10 JUN 1977

Army Secretary Clifford Alexander, Jr. orders the restoration of the Civil War award of the Medal of Honor to Dr. Mary E. Walker. She is the only woman ever awarded the Medal of Honor.

12 JUN 1989

The United States Army restores the Medals of Honor to 5 civilian scouts from the Indian Campaigns, including the award to William "Buffalo Bill" Cody. All 5 awards had been included in the purge of 1917.

24 APR 1991

World War I had yielded no African-America Medal of Honor recipients, not due to any lack of courage by America's "soldiers of color" but instead to the unjust prejudices of the time. On this date President George H. W. Bush corrected this sad part of Medal of Honor history when he presented the Medal of Honor to the family of Corporal Freddie Stowers, who died in his moment of valor.

3 OCT 1993

Two Special Forces Operational Detachment Delta members, Gary Gordon and Randall Shughart are killed in action during a rescue mission in Somalia. When President Clinton presented Medals of Honor to their widows on 23 May 1993 their heroism was recorded as the only Medal of Honor actions to occur in the 1990s.

13 JAN 1997

As had been the case for African-American soldiers during World War I, racial prejudice had prevented the award of the Medal of Honor to any African-American soldiers during World War II. After a comprehensive review of military awards to that war's African-American heroes, President Clinton presented Medals of Honor to the families of 6 deceased African-American World War II heroes and one living hero, Vernon Baker.

21 JUN 2000

In ceremonies at the White House, President Clinton presents the Medal of Honor to 22 World War II Veterans. Many are presented posthumously. All the medals went to Asian-Americans who were denied earlier recognition due to racism.

JAN 2001

In ceremonies at the White House, President Clinton posthumously presents the Medal of Honor to Andrew Jackson Smith.

16 JUL 2001

In ceremonies at the White House, President Bush presents the Medal of Honor to Ed W. Freeman.

1 MAY 2002

In ceremonies at the White House, President Bush presents the Medal of Honor to posthumously Ben L. Salomon.

4 APR 2003

Sgt. 1st Class Paul R. Smith distinguished himself near Baghdad International Airport. With disregard for his own safety, Sgt. Smith manned an exposed mounted machine gun allowing for the safe withdrawal of numerous wounded soldiers and the death of as many 50 enemy soldiers. Sgt. Smith was mortally wounded at this time.

31 MAR 2009

Four additional awards were presented posthumously for actions in Iraq and Afghanistan to US Marine Corporal Jason Dunham, Navy Seal Lt. Michael Murphy, Navy Seal Master-at-Arm Michael Monsoor and Army Private 1st Class Ross McGinnis.

A thanks to Doug Sterner and his
HomeofHeroes website for providing most of the content of this page.






Copyright 2004 Victor Claveau. All Rights Reserved