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The Medal of Honor

By Ron Montonye - Pierce County Veterans Service Officer | Oct 24, 2020

The Medal of Honor is the United States of America’s highest and most prestigious personal military decoration that may be awarded to recognize service members who have distinguished themselves by acts of valor. When we hear of this Medal of Honor, we often think of a particular recipient, like Sgt. Alvin York in World War I, or 2nd Lt. Audie Murphy in World War II, or more recently, Minot, North Dakota’s Staff Sgt. Clint Romesha from the War in Afghanistan.

The medal is normally awarded by the President of the United States in the name of the U.S. Congress. Because the medal is presented “in the name of Congress,” it is often incorrectly known as the “Congressional Medal of Honor.” The official name of the current award is the “Medal of Honor.” There are three versions of the medal, one each for the Department of the Army (The United States Army), Department of the Navy (United States Navy and the United States Marine Corps) and the Department of the Air Force (United States Air Force). Despite not normally a Department of the Navy, the United States Coast Guard awards the Navy’s version of the medal.

From a website, I found more detailed information about the Medal of Honor. The medal was introduced by the Department of the Navy in 1861, soon followed by the Department of the Army’s version in 1862. The Department of the Air Force received its own version in 1965. The Medal of Honor is the oldest continuously issued combat decoration of the United States armed forces. The President typically presents the medal at a formal ceremony intended to represent the gratitude of the American people, with posthumous presentations made to the primary next-of-kin.

According to the Medal of Honor Historical Society of the United States, there have been 3,525 Medals of Honor awarded to 3,506 individuals since the decoration’s creation, with over 40% awarded for actions during the Civil War. Nineteen service members have been awarded the Medal of Honor twice. The first double recipient was 2nd Lt. Thomas Custer (brother of George Armstrong Custer) for two separate actions during the Civil War.

Since 1948, the Medal of Honor and all associated service decorations awarded to members of the armed forces, by any of the armed forces, have been afforded special protection under U.S. law against any unauthorized adornment, sale, or manufacture, which includes any associated ribbon or badge.

The requirements for the Medal of Honor were standardized among all the services on July 25, 1963, requiring that a recipient had “distinguished himself conspicuously by gallantry and intrepidity at the risk of his life and beyond the call of duty.” The act also clarified that the act of valor must occur during one of three circumstances:

1. While engaged in action against an enemy of the United States.

2. While engaged in military operations involving conflict with an opposing foreign force.

3. 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.

The Medal of Honor confers special privileges on its recipients. By law, some of these special benefits are:

– Each recipient may have his or her name entered on the Medal of Honor Roll.

– Each person whose name is placed on the Roll is certified to the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs as being entitled to receive a monthly pension for life, above and beyond any other military pensions or compensations for which they may be eligible.

– Enlisted recipients are entitled to a supplemental uniform allowance.

– Recipients receive special entitlements to air transportation.

– Recipients are granted eligibility for interment at Arlington National Cemetery.

– Those awarded the medal after Oct. 23, 2002, receives a Medal of Honor flag.

– Although not required by law or military regulation, members of the uniformed services are encouraged to render salutes to recipients as a matter of courtesy and respect, regardless of rank or status, whether or not they are in uniform. This is one of the few instances where a living member of the military will receive salutes from members of higher rank.

We as Americans hold in high esteem Medal of Honor recipients, and we should. While saving comrades, many of these recipients gave their life, and thus were awarded the medal posthumously. I have never personally met a Medal of Honor recipient, but I have heard them being interviewed through different forms of the media. All those that I have heard seem very humble and do not see themselves as “heroes.” They usually just simply state, “I was just doing my duty. The real heroes are the ones that did not make it home.” This is not only a statement made by Medal of Honor recipients, but also often made by other decorated combat veterans as well. Their heroes lie in places like St. Mihiel and Normandy American National Cemeteries in France, or the Henri-Chappelle American Cemetery in Belgium, or in Arlington. More sadly, many lie in unmarked graves at the bottom of oceans, or in unknown graves, often alone, in places like the Philippines, Korea, Vietnam and other countries throughout the world. Just like combat veterans who see their dead comrades as their heroes, may they all be our heroes as well. When we continue to remember and honor all our veterans for their sacrifices and heroic deeds, then we are, and always will be, a better and more united nation.

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