The Medal of Honor (MoH) is the highest military medal a service member can earn. Created in the wake of the Civil War, the Medal of Honor is awarded to those who risk their lives above and beyond the call of duty in “actual combat” against an armed enemy of the United States.
There is a military tradition that dictates all uniformed members of the service render a salute to Medal of Honor awardees regardless of rank; this is one of the unique customs and courtesies associated with the medal. Even the most senior military officer will participate in this tradition out of respect for the sacrifices made in combat by all awardees.
Medal of Honor recipients receive these benefits for life:
- Added to the Medal of Honor Roll.
- Retired pay is increased by 10%.
- A special Medal of Honor pension of $1,406.73 (effective date: December 1, 2020) per month above and beyond any other benefits including pensions.
- A special supplemental clothing allowance of $841.36.
- Free lifelong travel on DoD military aircraft as a priority “Space-A” traveler. This benefit is subject to whether seats are available, hence the “Space-A” designation.
- Priority level #1 (of 8) consideration when it comes to claims before the Department of Veterans Affairs.
- Exempt from co-payments for their medical care.
- Access to MWR retail and lodging facilities (effective Jan. 1, 2020).
- Children of awardees are offered automatic appointment to any military service academy they are qualified to enter, without regard to nomination or quota regulations. Normally, a nomination is required to enter a military academy such as West Point, and there is a rigorous screening process.
- Recipients are given preferential accommodations at on-base billeting facilities, are provided with special military ID cards, plus access to on-base commissary and BX/PX privileges.
- Some base facilities offer special parking spaces, plus access to on-base recreation facilities. This on-base access is normally limited to currently serving military members, retirees, and dependents with valid military ID. Those who did not retire, but separated from the military don’t have such access otherwise.
- Invites to presidential inauguration events and special recognition ceremonies at the state and local level.
- A variety of non-military benefits. Those include special license plates, licenses, and ID cards with application requirements and availability varying by state.
- Some private companies offer special gifts, incentive programs, or access for Medal of Honor awardees and others receiving high military honors such as The Purple Heart. Individual programs and requirements may vary.
- Surviving spouses and dependent children of Medal of Honor awardees may, depending on the state, be eligible to receive added consideration for state education benefits.
- Special military burial honors including headstones with gold lettering and a nine-member team of six pallbearers, a chaplain, an officer-in-charge or non-commissioned-officer-in-charge and a bugler.
- Uniform privileges which allow recipients to wear their uniforms at any time or place they choose, unlike other military personnel or retirees.
- Interment at Arlington National Cemetery, if not already eligible.
Medal of Honor Origins
The first Medal of Honor recipient was Army Private Jacob Parrott, recognized in 1863 (just a month after his return from being a Confederate prisoner) for his part in a raid on Confederate railroad facilities and bridges far across enemy lines in Georgia.
Medal of Honor Requirements
On July 25, 1963 Congress established a set of guidelines under which the Medal of Honor could be awarded:
- while engaged in an action against an enemy of the United States
- while engaged in military operations involving conflict with an opposing foreign force
- while serving with friendly forces engaged in armed conflict against an opposing armed force in which the United States is not a belligerent party
Medal of Honor Facts
- It is not required to be a U.S. citizen, but one must be in the U.S. military in order to qualify for the Medal of Honor.
- It is illegal to buy, sell, barter, or manufacture any decorations or medals authorized by Congress for the United States armed forces. Title 18 U.S. Code § 704 (Public Law 113-296).
- There are three distinct versions (one for the Army, one for the Air Force, and one for the Navy, the Marine Corps, and the Coast Guard).
- The people who have received it prefer to be called “Recipients” (of the award), not “winners”.
- The award is NOT called the “Congressional Medal of Honor” just simply “Medal of Honor.”
- There is the Congressional Medal of Honor Society, which represents recipients of the Medal of Honor, maintains their records and organizes reunion events, among other responsibilities.
Medal of Honor Recipients
More than 3,500 Medals of Honor have been awarded. There are less than 80 living recipients of the Medal of Honor.
- The Army has by far received the most Medals of Honor, with more than 2,400 going to soldiers.
- Double Medal of Honor Awards: Nineteen service members have been awarded the Medal of Honor twice as of 2020, 14 of them for two separate events.
- There has only been one female Medal of Honor recipient: Dr. Mary Walker, who volunteered to help the Union Army during the Civil War because she wasn’t allowed to join as a surgeon. She received the Medal of Honor in 1865, but it was rescinded in 1917 because she was a civilian. The honor was restored to her name in 1977.
- There are eight civilians who have received the Medal of Honor. The civilian recipients were all from the Civil War era.
- William Carney was the first African-American recipient. He was awarded the Medal of Honor for his actions on July 18,1863 at Fort Wagner, SC.
- The Coast Guard’s sole Medal of Honor belongs to Signalman 1st Class Douglas Munro who led a rescue of an entire battalion of Marines who were attacked by an overwhelming Japanese force during Battle of Guadalcanal.
- Teddy Roosevelt is the only president who has ever received the Medal of Honor. He served in the 1898 Spanish-American War as the lieutenant colonel of the famously known “Rough Riders,” who helped turn the tide of the war against Cuba to America’s favor. He didn’t actually receive the Medal of Honor, though, until more than a century later, on Jan. 16, 2001.
- Arthur MacArthur (Civil War) and General Douglas MacArthur (WWII) were the only father and son in history to each receive a Medal of Honor until Teddy Roosevelt received the honor.
- Roosevelt’s son Theodore Roosevelt Jr. also received the Medal of Honor who served in World War I and WWII and at 56 was the oldest man and only general to storm the beaches of Normandy on D-Day with the first wave of American troops.
- The oldest recipient was General Douglas MacArthur who was 62 years old when he earned the Medal.
- The award has been presented to 5 sets of brothers.
- The youngest Medal of Honor recipient was earned at 11 and was granted it at 13 during the Civil War.
- The conflict with the most Medal of Honor recipients is the Civil War with 1,522 recipients. The number of recipients can increase due to posthumous awards.
- 864 soldiers of the 27th Maine Infantry Regiment were awarded the medal for their service during the Civil War only to have them recalled when the Army changed eligibility criteria.
Recent Medal of Honor Recipients
- Thomas P. Payne, U.S. Army
- Mathew O. Williams, U.S. Army
- David Bellavia, U.S. Army
- Travis Atkins, U.S. Army
- John L. Canley, U.S. Marine Corps
- Ronald J. Shurer II, U.S. Army
- John A. Chapman, U.S. Air Force
- Garlin Murl Conner, U.S. Army
- Britt K. Slabinksi, U.S. Navy
- Gary M. Rose, U.S. Army
- James C. McCloughan, U.S. Army
- Charles S. Kettles, U.S. Army
- Edward C. Byers Jr., U.S. Navy
- Florent A. Groberg, U.S. Army
- Henry aka William Henry Johnson, U.S. Army
- William Shemin, U.S. Army
- Alonzo H. Cushing, U.S. Army
- Bennie G. Adkins, U.S. Army
- Donald P. Sloat, U.S. Army
- Ryan Pitts, U.S. Army
Conflicts with Medal of Honor Recipients
- 1871 Korean Campaign
- Action Against Philippine Outlaws
- Boxer Rebellion
- Civil War
- Dominican Campaign
- Haiti 1915
- Haiti Campaign 1919-1920
- Indian War Campaigns
- Interim 1866-1870
- Interim 1871-1898
- Interim 1901-1911
- Interim 1915-16
- Interim 1920-1940
- Korean War
- Mexican Campaign (Vera Cruz)
- Philippine Insurrection
- Second Nicaraguan Campaign
- Somalia Campaign
- Vietnam War
- War In Afghanistan
- War In Iraq
- War With Spain
- World War I
- World War II
Medal of Honor Docuseries
To learn more about Medal of Honor recipients watch the docuseries aptly named Medal of Honor, available on Netflix. The Defense Department partnered with Netflix to create this docuseries which celebrates Medal of Honor recipients. The series highlights the lives and experiences of eight men who earned the honor since World War II and includes current and former service members expertise behind the scenes and on camera.
Joe Wallace is a 13-year veteran of the United States Air Force and a former reporter for Air Force Television News
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