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Medal of Honor – what you need to know about our nation’s highest military award
March 25th is the official Medal of Honor Day. Much of the information pertaining to our nation’s highest military award for bravery is relatively unknown to many Americans, since it’s largely ignored by the mainstream media.
On December 21, 1861 President Abraham Lincoln approved and signed Senate Bill 82 into law, creating the Medal Of Honor for heroic acts above and beyond the call of duty, for gallantry in the face of enemy forces engaged in combat.
The United States Congress has designated March 25th of each year as “National Medal Of Honor Day”, dedicated to Medal of Honor recipients. (Public Law 101-564).
There are currently less than one hundred (100) living Medal of Honor recipients, while their heroic exploits will forever live on in history.
There has been a total of 3,473 Medals of Honor awarded to 3,454 different people. The United States Army has garnered 2,404, the Navy 747, followed by the United States Marines for a 297 total with the Air Force tallying 18 and 1 going to the Coast Guard.
There have been 19 two-time recipients, a father and son, the youngest recipient being 12 years old, one U.S. President, General George Armstrong Custer’s brother Tom Custer, and one woman. From this very unique bracket of heroes, some received a second award, 14 received 2 separate medals for different military engagements and 5 were awarded both the Navy and Army Medal of Honor for the same action.
The only female Medal of Honor recipient - Dr. Mary Edwards Walker, the first-ever female U.S. Army Surgeon during the Civil War. On November 11, 1865, President Andrew Johnson signed a bill to present her with the medal for her actions at the First Battle of Bull Run (Manassas).
Mary Walker was one of the first women at the turn of the century to wear men’s trousers. Because of her clothing, she was arrested several times and charged with “impersonating a man”. Her medal was rescinded, based on an Army determination that she was a non-combatant. Mary Walker defiantly continued to wear her Medal Of Honor, in spite of being ordered to return it in 1917.
America’s first whistleblower - Buffalo Bill Cody was also ordered to return his Medal of Honor that he received for heroic hand-to-hand combat with Cheyenne War Chief Yellow Hand while serving with the 3rd Calvary Regiment in 1872. Cody fell into disfavor for speaking up against government corruption and abuse of Native Americans during President Ulysses S. Grant’s administration.
Subsequently, Cody was alienated politically and financially, in an attempt to discredit the hero as a non-military combatant. On February 5, 1917, 24 days after his death, Congress implemented new guidelines that would exclude Buffalo Bill from the Hall of Heroes and his medal was retroactively rescinded.
President Jimmy Carter restored the Medal of Honor to Dr. Mary Walker in 1977 by presidential decree. Buffalo Bill Cody’s Medal of Honor was restored in 1989 by an act of Congress.
The Medal Of Honor has been posthumously awarded to 625 military servicemen.
The first Army Medal of Honor was awarded to Union Army Private Jacob Parrott during the American Civil War.
Conscientious objector - Sgt. Alvin York from World War I was an expert marksman that elected not to fight, but became a one-man army in trench warfare. Noted pacifist, Desmond Doss distinguished himself by carrying 75 fallen comrades to safety, while refusing to carry or fire a rifle. He was first scorned by the military for refusing to take a life, then honored for carrying wounded warriors to safety with Bible in hand, in a hailstorm of bullets fired by Japanese soldiers.
The Medal of Honor is for American servicemen exclusively but was presented to a British Unknown Soldier by General Jack "Blackjack" Pershing on October 17, 1921. As a reciprocal act, on November 11, 1921, the U.S. Unknown Soldier was awarded the British Victoria Cross, the British military's highest award for heroism, named after England’s Queen Victoria. These are the only 2 known exceptions to the Congressional pre-requisite that America’s Medal of Honor can only be awarded to members of U.S. armed forces.
Canada has played a major role in the Medal Of Honor, with 61 recipients of the coveted medal, the majority of these were for actions during the Civil War.
Every ethnic background is represented by the Medal of Honor recipients, with Latino-Americans topping the list for their World War II contributions. Twenty-one (21) Medals Of Honor were awarded to Asian Americans, 7 to African American heroes from the World War II era. Another was awarded to Tibor Rubin, a Jewish immigrant, who was honored for his gallantry in the Korean War conflict.
Bradley A. Kasal, First Sergeant, United States Marine Corps on November 13, 2004, was mortally wounded and with deliberate intent and sense of duty, threw himself on a grenade to protect his fellow Marines from death or further injury. Kasal gave his life to save others while serving the United States, but the political red tape prevented him from receiving the Medal of Honor posthumously. Kasal was awarded with the Navy Cross, the second highest award by the Department of Navy.
Four (4) fallen heroes were awarded the Medal of Honor for actions in Iraq posthumously. U.S. Army Sergeant First Class Paul Ray Smith, Army Private First Class Ross A. McGinnis, Marine Corps Corporal Jason Dunham and Navy SEAL, Master-at-Arms Second Class Michael A. Monsoor. These brave men sacrificed their own lives to save the lives of their team members. In September of 2006, Navy SEAL team member Monsoor jumped on a grenade which was thrown in the midst of his SEAL sniper team.
Since 1979, there have been forty-seven (47) belated awards of the Medal Of Honor to recognize gallant and heroic actions from the Civil War to Vietnam. President Barack Obama has made his contribution to honoring heroes from days gone by on September 21, 2010, awarding Medal of Honor posthumously to Air Force Chief Master Sergeant Richard Etchberger for his actions during the Vietnam War.
Hungarian immigrant, US citizen since 1964, US Army Sgt. Leslie Sabo awaits his Medal Of Honor for actions in Cambodia of May 1970. President Obama has the award that is still pending for the hero whose paperwork was misplaced in the federal bureaucratic process. Medal of Honor recommendations were reportedly denied for political reasons during the George W. Bush administration. Potential Medal of Honor recipients were subjected to intense background checks and red tape to avoid scrutiny for politically unpopular military conflicts.
United States Army Staff Sergeant Salvatore Giunta is the only living recipient of the Medal of Honor for service in the Iraq and Afghanistan since the Viet Nam period of service.
Star of film and television, Academy Award nominee Burt Reynolds stated he would have given up all of his career accomplishments to receive the Medal of Honor. In 1999, Burt Reynolds hosted the “Medal of Honor” TV Series, produced by Fleur De Lis Film Studios in association with the Medal Of Honor Society.