U.S. Army Medal of Honor
The Medal of Honor, the nation’s highest award for valor in combat, is presented “for conspicuous gallantry and intrepidity at the risk of life, above and beyond the call of duty.”
The idea for the Medal of Honor was conceived during the first year of the Civil War. Individuals were fighting for their country, yet the nation had no formal system for recognizing or rewarding acts of heroism. Then a senator from Iowa, James W. Grimes, introduced a bill to “promote the efficiency of the Navy” by distributing “medals of honor.” President Abraham Lincoln signed the bill into law Decembr 21, 1861. Lincoln signed a similar measure on behalf of the U.S. Army July 12, 1862, and the country had two Medals of Honor: one for sailors, and one for soldiers. By the time the Civil War ended, 1,525 medals had been awarded, including one to Army surgeon Mary Walker, the only woman ever to receive the Medal of Honor.
Because it was the country’s only military medal, the Medal of Honor was awarded more freely at first. But after World War I broke out, the Army and Navy created a series of new decorations to recognize different degrees of accomplishment, including the Distinguished Service Cross, the Navy Cross, and the Citation Star, later replaced by the Silver Star. As a result, only 124 Medals of Honor were awarded for service in World War I.
There are three similar, yet distinct, versions of the Medal of Honor, one for each military department (Army, Navy and Air Force). The medals are similar in that each consists of a variation of a five-pointed star worn around the neck on a light blue ribbon. The Navy version is awarded to those serving in the Navy and Marine Corps, and during times of war, to members of the Coast Guard. Although not required by any military regulation, according to tradition and the nature of the award, even a four-star general will salute a private who wears the Medal of Honor. Visit the Congressional Medal of Honor Society website for information on all Medal of Honor recipients.