On 12 July 1862, President Lincoln signed into law the bill creating the army Medal of Honor; six months earlier, on 21 December 1861, the president had approved the creation of the same medal for the navy. The Medal of Honor is the United States’ highest military decoration. It is awarded for “conspicuous gallantry and intrepidity at the risk of his life above and beyond the call of duty while engaged in an action against any enemy of the United States . . .”
Did you know the following facts about the Medal of Honor?
- There are currently 3,459 recipients of the Medal of Honor, 81 of whom are still living.
- 19 men received the Medal of Honor twice; 5 of these received both the army and navy medal for the same action, and 14 received it for 2 separate actions.
- The president of the United States awards the Medal of Honor personally, on behalf of Congress.
- There are three Medals of Honor: one for the army, one for the air force, and one for the navy, marine corps, and coast guard.
- Although it is sometimes called the Congressional Medal of Honor, the actual name is simply the Medal of Honor.
- Almost half of the Medals of Honor (1,522) were awarded for actions during the Civil War.
- The first Medal of Honor was awarded to Jacob Parrott in March 1863; but in 1894 the medal was retroactively awarded to Bernard Irwin for his heroism 33 years earlier (in 1861), making making his actions chronologically the first to deserve the Medal of Honor.
- Only one woman—Dr. Mary Walker—has received the Medal of Honor (in 1865).
- Upon investigation and review, in 1917, 911 names were removed from the Medal of Honor list; some were later reinstated.
- After 1918, recipients had to be serving in the U.S. armed forces to qualify for the Medal of Honor; after 1942, the medal had to be awarded for actions during combat.
- Over 60 percent of the Medals of Honor since World War II have been awarded posthumously.
- Dakota Meyer is the most recent living recipient (received the medal in 2011 for actions in 2008). He is the third living person to receive the medal since the Vietnam War.
For more information about the Medal of Honor and its recipients, visit the websites of the Congressional Medal of Honor Society and the U.S. Army. To watch or listen to interviews with Medal of Honor recipients, visit the Pritzker Military Library website.