Medal of Honor Day in Its 150th Year

March 25th was celebrated as Medal of Honor Day – a day to pay respects to service members who have served and gone above and beyond the call of duty.

Citations for Medal of Honor recipients describe feats of courage, strength, and resilience. Recipients overcame the paralysis of fear, and in some cases, they persevered in spite of wounds that would normally be so painful as to be disabling. Some of these heroes willingly gave their lives for the sake of their buddies.

To further tribute Medal of Honor Day, here are eight interesting facts:

1) The earliest actions in which the Medal was awarded took place before the Civil War began on February 13-14, 1861.  Bernard J.D. Irwin  was an Assistant Surgeon in the Army when he voluntarily went to the rescue of 2d Lt. George N. Bascom who was trapped with 60 members of the 7th Infantry. Irwin and 14 men began the 100-mile trek to Bascom’s forces riding mules. After fighting and capturing Apaches along the way, as well as recovering stolen horses and cattle, Irwin reached Bascom’s forces and helped break the siege. The Medal of Honor was awareded to Irwin on January 24, 1894 – which was more than 30 years after he performed his heroic actions.

2)  In the beginning, the Medal of Honor was only awarded to enlisted service members. On March 3, 1863, this was changed to include officers as well.

Army Medal of Honor

3) There are three versions of the Medal of Honor: U.S. Army, U.S. Navy and U.S. Air Force. Members of the U.S. Marines Corps and U.S. Coast Guard are eligible to receive the Navy version.  Likewise, each of the armed services maintains their own regulations governing the award.

Navy Medal of Honor

Air Force Medal of Honor

4)  Only one woman has received the Medal of Honor and her award was temporarily taken away. President Andrew Johnson presented the Medal of Honor to Dr. Mary E. Walker on November 11, 1865 for her actions as a Contract Acting Assistant Surgeon in a series of battles from First Bull Run in 1861 to the Battle of Atlanta in 1864. Caught by Confederate troops and arrested as a spy, she also spent four months as a Prisoner of War. Although her award was rescinded along with hundreds of others in 1917, upon the passage of legislation that stated the medal could only be given to persons who had engaged in “actual combat with an enemy,” Walker’s Medal of Honor was reinstated on June 10, 1977 by President Jimmy Carter.

5)  The Medal of Honor recommendation process can take in excess of 18 months with extreme scrutiny every step of the way because of the need for accuracy. To see a visual depiction of the process, visit www.army.mil/medalofhonor/steps.html

6) Children of Medal of Honor recipients are not subject to quotas if they are qualified and want to attend the U.S. military academies.

7) The recipients of Medal of Honor have uniform privileges, which allow them to wear their uniforms at any time or place they choose, unlike other military personnel or retirees.

8) Although it is not required by law or military regulation, service members are encouraged to salute Medal of Honor recipients as a gesture of respect and courtesy regardless of rank or status and, if the recipients are wearing the medal, whether or not they are in uniform. This is the only instance where a Soldier will receive a salute from members of a higher rank.

What information do you have about the Medal of Honor history or tradition that you can share in the comments section of this post?

Source:  Brown, Brittany. “The Medal of Honor:  Eight Surprising Facts.” Army Images, U.S. Army. 15, March 2013.  <http://armylive.dodlive.mil/index.php/2013/03/the-medal-of-honor-eight-surprising-facts/&gt;.

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