The Medal of Honor is the most prestigious award and highest honor that the United States military has to offer. Despite its prestige, however, there’s much that people don’t know about this coveted decoration:
- There are three different versions of the Medal of Honor: one for the Army, one for the Navy, and one for the Air Force.
A separate Coast Guard version has also been authorized, but it has yet to actually be awarded to anyone. In the meantime, personnel from the Coast Guard and Marine Corps receive the Navy version of the prestigious decoration.
- There is only one woman, who has ever been awarded the Medal of Honor: Mary Edwards Walker.
Walker served as a Union Army surgeon, during the Civil War. She received the Medal of Honor in 1865 for her exemplary service in field hospitals, during the First Battle of Bull Run (July 21, 1861) and a series of other battles over the next three years.
- There is also only one U.S. President, who has ever been awarded the Medal of Honor: Teddy Roosevelt, for his service as a Rough Rider.
When the Spanish-American War broke out, Roosevelt quit his job as Secretary of the Navy to lead a volunteer regiment, know as the Rough Riders. He then played a pivotal role in the Battles of San Juan Hill and a series of other confrontations in Cuba. Accordingly, President Clinton posthumously honored him with the award in 2001.
- 3,492 different people have been awarded the Medal of Honor.
Astoundingly, 19 men have been awarded the honor twice. Fourteen of these double recipients received two separate Medals of Honor for two separate acts of valor. The remaining five double winners received both the Army and Navy Medals of Honor for the same act.
- The youngest ever recipient of the Medal of Honor earned the award at age 11 and received it at age 13. His name was Willie Johnston.
Johnston enlisted in the Union Army alongside his father, in June 1861, as a drummer boy. A year later, their unit, the 3rd Vermont Infantry, was overpowered by Confederate Forces and forced to retreat down the Virginia Peninsula. During this famous “Seven Days Retreat,” the soldiers and other drummers in Willie’s unit shed their weapons and instruments, in an effort to flee faster. Willie, however, held onto his drum and was later asked to play for the entire division on July 4th… an exemplary act, which led President Lincoln to recommend him for the Medal of Honor.
- Jacklyn “Jack” Lucas, is the youngest Marine to have ever received the Medal of Honor.
He is also the youngest person to have received the honor in the 20th Century. Lucas lied his way into the armed forces, during World War II, at the age of just 14. Then, at 17, he shielded several of his fellow soldiers from enemy grenades, during Iwo Jima; absorbing the full blast with his own body.
- It is illegal to wear someone else’s Medal of Honor.
Interestingly, though, it is no longer illegal to pretend you have one. In 2006, President George W. Bush attempted to make it illegal by signing the Stolen Valor Act into law. This act imposed a prison sentence of up to one year on anyone, falsely claiming to have received a Medal of Honor. However, the Supreme Court later struck this act down in 2012, ruling that it violated the First Amendment right to free speech.
- There are two father-son pairs that have won the Medal of Honor.
Arthur MacArthur, Jr. and his son, General Douglas MacArthur were the first father and son to both be awarded Medals of Honor. The only other such pairing was President Teddy Roosevelt and his son, Theodore Roosevelt, Jr., who led the first wave of troops onto Utah Beach during the Normandy Landings of World War II.
- There are also five pairs of brothers that have been awarded the Medal of Honor.
The first of these pairs was John and William Black, who both won the decoration for their exemplary service in the American Civil War. Brothers Charles and Henry Capehart also received the award for courageous actions during the American Civil War. Brothers Harry and Willard Miller received the honor for the same naval action, during the Spanish-American War. Brothers Allen and James Thompson received the award for the same action, during the American Civil War. Lastly, brothers Antoine and Julien Gaujot have the unique distinction of receiving their medals for actions in separate conflicts; Antoine for the Philippine-American War, Julien for crossing the border to rescue both Mexicans and Americans, during the Mexican Revolution.
- In 1993, the U.S. Army commissioned a study to investigate possible racial discrimination in the awarding of the Medal of Honor.
After an exhaustive review of military files, a group of Distinguished Service Cross recipients were upgraded to the higher honor.
- In 1998, a similar study was commissioned to investigate possible discrimination against Asian Americans in the awarding of military decorations.
It resulted in President Clinton awarding 22 Asian-American World War II heroes the country’s highest medal for valor in 2000. Twenty of these medals went to American soldiers of Japanese descent, who served in the 442nd Regimental Combat Team in the European Theater. One went to Senator Daniel Inouye, a former U.S. Army Infantry officer in the 442nd RCT.
- More than half of all Medals of Honor have been awarded posthumously; a testament to the danger of the courageous sort of “beyond the call of duty” acts, which merit the honor in the first place.
- When you get a Medal of Honor, you earn a lifetime of special benefits and privileges.
For example, your kids are eligible for admission to United States military academies, without having to secure nominations or meet quota requirements. Also, if you were not previously eligible for burial in Arlington Cemetery, you are now.
- Medal of Honor recipients also receive invitations to all future presidential inaugurations and inaugural balls.
- As of 2002, in addition to the actual medal, all Medal of Honor recipients also get a special Medal of Honor Flag.