Which U.S. President Was Awarded the Medal of Honor?

It was in January of 2001, the United States 26th President Theodore Roosevelt was awarded the Medal of Honor for his bravery on July 1, 1898, during the Spanish-American War, in the battle to capture San Juan Heights, near Santiago, Cuba, when he led the First U.S. Volunteer Cavalry (Rough Riders) and other troops in two dramatic charges against entrenched Spanish positions. Tweed Roosevelt, a great grandson of Theodore Roosevelt, was chosen to receive the Medal for the family because of his leadership in the efforts to bring about the award. 

It was highly unusual for an award recommended by the entire chain of command to be rejected; and this was an award for action in combat that had been witnessed by many and widely reported in the press. But the recommendation was rejected by the War Department. Why? The probable reason is that Theodore Roosevelt had sent a telegram and a letter to Secretary of War Russell A. Alger strongly urging that American troops, ravaged by tropical diseases, be immediately returned to the United States now that the fighting was over. (Theodore Roosevelt himself contracted malaria, which remained with him the rest of his life). General Shafter leaked these messages to the press, thereby embarrassing and infuriating Secretary of War Alger as well as President William McKinley.

In 1916, less than three years before his death, the 26th president was nominated for the Medal of Honor, but the Army passed him over, citing a lack of evidence for his heroic actions at San Juan Hill.

Congressman Paul McHale introduced a bill to give the Medal of Honor to Theodore Roosevelt in 1996, and then introduced a second bill on July 25, 1997, HR 2263, entitled “A bill to authorize and request the President to award the Congressional Medal of Honor posthumously to Theodore Roosevelt for his gallant and heroic actions in the attack on San Juan Heights, Cuba, during the Spanish-American War.” HR 2263 had over 160 co-sponsors in the House of Representatives, forming an impressive and bipartisan coalition.

On January 16, 2001, in the Roosevelt Room of the White House, Theodore Roosevelt’s Medal of Honor was given to the Roosevelt family by President Bill Clinton, and at the same time the descendants of Andrew Jackson Smith, a slave who escaped and fought in the Union Army during the Civil War, also received the Medal of Honor for the bravery deeds of their ancestor. Roosevelt’s son, Theodore Jr., who served in both World Wars, also received the Medal of Honor.

For more information about Theodore Roosevelt’s Medal of Honor history, visit http://www.theodoreroosevelt.org/life/MedalofHonor%20Quest.htm.

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