National Medal of Honor Center for Leadership

The Medal of Honor

Gold Stars

The Medal

The Medal of Honor was born during the Civil War as a way of honoring those who distinguished themselves in the line of duty.

Each Medal was thoughtfully designed to reflect the values of its recipients. Steeped with symbolism, the Medal has become a historic symbol of our nation’s bravest, those that “…distinguishes himself conspicuously by gallantry and intrepidity at the risk of his life above and beyond the call of duty.”

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3 military medals

Laurel Wreath: The wreath of laurel leaves, a symbol of victory, was added in 1904.

Oak Clusters: Dark green oak clusters located in each of the star’s five points represent strength.

United States of America: The words “United States of America” surround the central engraving.

Minerva: A simple profile of Minerva, the Helmeted Goddess of Wisdom and War, rests in the center of the medal.

There are Currently Three Variations of the Medal of Honor.

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There are Currently Three Variations of the Medal of Honor.

United states Valor Medal

There are Currently Three Variations of the Medal of Honor.

History

It’s a symbol for the very values its recipients displayed in the moments that mattered, an honor bestowed upon only the most honorable.

It started as a simple idea from Iowa Senator James W. Grimes—a bill authorizing the production and distribution of “medals of honor” to be presented to enlisted seamen and marines who “distinguish themselves by gallantry in action and other seamanlike qualities” during the American Civil War.

All three stand for “Action above and beyond the call of duty.”

Since its creation during the American Civil War, the Medal of Honor has undergone several design changes. The U.S. Army and U.S. Navy have always had separate designs for their personnel. Until the U.S. Air Force introduced its design in 1965, all airmen received the Army design. The U.S. Marine Corps and U.S. Coast Guard receive the U.S. Navy design. Each branch’s design features differences within and surrounding the pendulous star, but all three stand for “action above and beyond the call of duty.”

The Medal Timeline

1861
President Abrahm Lincoln signs legislation creating the Navy Medal of Honor on December 21, 1861
1897
New standards of awarding the Medal are established: 1. There must be eyewitness statements, 2. Someone other than the recipient must make the nomination, 3. The nomination must be submitted within one year of the action.
1915
Naval and Marine Corps Officers can be nominated/awarded the Medal of Honor. Before this only those enlisted could.
1918
The Pyramid of Value is introduced that outlines key military valor awards, like the Purple Heart, etc.
1956
The US Airforce receives congressional authorization to create its own Medal of Honor design
1963
New guidelines for awarding the Medal of Honor are approved by Congress: the medal can be awarded 1. While engaging in an action against an enemy of the United States, 2. While engaged in military operations involving a conflict with an opposing foreign force, or 3. While serving with friendly forces in an armed conflict against an opposing armed forces in which the US is not a belligerent party.”
2013
Congress sets time limits that nominations must be made within three years of the valorous action and the medal must be presented within five years.
1863
The first Medals of Honor were presented to Union soldiers of the Andrews’ Raiders who had gone on a spy mission into Georgia, hobbling a railway and telegraph lines in the process. The Raid became known as “The Great Locomotive Chase” and the Medals were presented on March 25, 1863.
1905
President Roosevelt signs an executive order that the Medal must be presented in a formal ceremony. Before that, recipients could receive theirs in the mail!
1916
Medal of Honor Roll is established and monthly pensions are sent to those recipients 65 and older.
1943
The first - and only - Coast Guard officer was awarded the Medal of Honor
1958
The Congressional Society for the Medal of Honor is created under President Eisenhower.
2003
Medal of Honor pension increased to $1,000 per month with annual cost of living increases. All recipients receive this pension so matter their age or occupation.
1861
President Abrahm Lincoln signs legislation creating the Navy Medal of Honor on December 21, 1861
1863
The first Medals of Honor were presented to Union soldiers of the Andrews’ Raiders who had gone on a spy mission into Georgia, hobbling a railway and telegraph lines in the process. The Raid became known as “The Great Locomotive Chase” and the Medals were presented on March 25, 1863.
1897
New standards of awarding the Medal are established: 1. There must be eyewitness statements, 2. Someone other than the recipient must make the nomination, 3. The nomination must be submitted within one year of the action.
1905
President Roosevelt signs an executive order that the Medal must be presented in a formal ceremony. Before that, recipients could receive theirs in the mail!
1915
Naval and Marine Corps Officers can be nominated/awarded the Medal of Honor. Before this only those enlisted could.
1916
Medal of Honor Roll is established and monthly pensions are sent to those recipients 65 and older.
1918
The Pyramid of Value is introduced that outlines key military valor awards, like the Purple Heart, etc.
1943
The first - and only - Coast Guard officer was awarded the Medal of Honor
1956
The US Airforce receives congressional authorization to create its own Medal of Honor design
1958
The Congressional Society for the Medal of Honor is created under President Eisenhower.
1963
New guidelines for awarding the Medal of Honor are approved by Congress: the medal can be awarded 1. While engaging in an action against an enemy of the United States, 2. While engaged in military operations involving a conflict with an opposing foreign force, or 3. While serving with friendly forces in an armed conflict against an opposing armed forces in which the US is not a belligerent party.”
2003
Medal of Honor pension increased to $1,000 per month with annual cost of living increases. All recipients receive this pension so matter their age or occupation.
2013
Congress sets time limits that nominations must be made within three years of the valorous action and the medal must be presented within five years.
3,517 Medal of Honor Recipients
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Currently there are 61 Living Recipients
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The Recipients

Awarded by the President, in the name of Congress, the Medal of Honor commemorates those who have shaped our nation’s history and continue to inspire its future with their acts of valor, humanity, patriotism, and sacrifice. Of the 40 million Americans who have served in the Armed Forces since the Civil War, only 3,517 have earned the Medal of Honor.

For an act to be considered for the Medal of Honor, it must be in combat and involve the risk of the service member’s life. The act must be so outstanding that it clearly distinguishes gallantry beyond the call of duty and must be the type of deed which, if not done, would not result in any justified criticism.

The standards to award the Medal of Honor have evolved over time, but the Medal has always stood for actions that go above and beyond. The current criteria were established in 1963 during the Vietnam War.

The Medal is authorized for any military service member who “distinguishes himself conspicuously by gallantry and intrepidity at the risk of his life above and beyond the call of duty:

  • While engaged in an 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 foreign forces engaged in an armed conflict against an opposing armed force in which the United States is not a belligerent party.”

All recommendations require thorough reports on the act itself, the battlefield and its setting; at least two sworn eyewitness statements; and any other compelling evidence that can be gathered. Recommendation packets must be approved all the way up the military command structure, ending with the United States President as the Commander-in-Chief.

By Federal Statute, recommendations for the Medal must be submitted within 3 years of the valorous act and the Medal must be presented within 5 years. Any submissions outside of this timeline require an Act of Congress to waive the time limits.

As of June 25, 2019, there have been 3,517 Medals of Honor presented but there are only 62 living Recipients. These men receive a special monthly pension for life, may fly for free on military aircraft on a space available basis, qualify for burial at Arlington National Cemetery, and their children may apply to U.S. service academies without a Congressional sponsor.

To learn more about the individual recipients of the Congressional Medal of Honor, visit the Congressional Medal of Honor Society website. There you can search the recipient database and learn about their Stories of Sacrifice for our country.

The Medal is authorized for any military service member who “distinguishes himself conspicuously by gallantry and intrepidity at the risk of his life above and beyond the call of duty.