Since its inception in the Civil War, the Medal of Honor
has been awarded only 3,459 times to 3,440 recipients, almost half
of them Civil War soldiers. (There have been 19 double recipients.)
More than half of those who have received the Medal of Honor did
not survive the action for which it was awarded.
The medal, which is presented by the president in the name of Congress,
is the highest military honor that can be bestowed upon any American.
There are actually three medals — for the Navy, Army and Air
Only one woman, a Civil War doctor named Mary Walker, has received
the medal. It was presented to her in 1866 for treating wounded
soldiers. In 1916 Congress revised the Medal of Honor standards
to include only “actual combat with an enemy,” and Walker’s
medal was rescinded. Prior to her death in 1919, she made appeals
to Congress and the War Department but was unsuccessful in reversing
the decision. Nearly 60 years later, a descendant persuaded the
Army to restore her medal. Many historians and some recipients objected,
citing her civilian status and allegations of incompetence, but
she remains on record as the sole female recipient.
The Medal of Honor is earned in action, at the risk of one’s
life. In their provisions for judging whether someone is entitled
to the Medal of Honor, the armed services have set up regulations
that permit no margin of doubt or error. The deed of the person
- be proven by incontestable evidence
of at least two eyewitnesses;
- be so outstanding that it clearly distinguishes
gallantry beyond the call of duty from lesser forms of bravery;
- involve the risk of life; and
- be the type of deed which, if not done,
would not subject the recipient to any justified criticism.
There have been 842 medals awarded since World War II. The breakdown
is as follows — World War II: 464 medals, Korea: 131 medals;
Vietnam: 245 medals; Somalia: two medals.
The last action for which the Medal of Honor was awarded occurred
in Mogadishu, Somalia, on October 3, 1993. The medals were awarded
posthumously to the families of Gary Gordon and Randall Shughart,
whose story was told in the 2001 film “Black Hawk Down.”
It took nearly 60 years for 29 African-American and Asian-American
heroes to be recognized for their actions in World War II. They
were finally honored, many posthumously, at ceremonies at the White
House in 1997 and 2000.