As of July 2018, there have been a total of 3,519 Medals of Honor awarded across all five branches of the United States Armed Forces. The Medal of Honor was established by President Lincoln in July of 1862 to give recognition to men who distinguished themselves “conspicuously by gallantry and intrepidity” in combat with an enemy of the United States. Currently, there are three versions of the medal and while there are many similarities in each medal there are also distinct differences. Below we showcase the variations and symbolism of the Medal of Honor.
The US Army has awarded 2,451 medals, the most of any branch of the military. Over half of the total amount of Army Medal of Honor recipients were awarded during the Civil War, with 1,522 recipients.
The current US Army Medal of Honor is a five-pointed bronze star. Each point is tipped with trefoils and the entire star is surrounded by a green laurel wreath to symbolize victory. The star and wreath are suspended from a gold bar with ‘VALOR’ inscribed and held by an eagle to symbolize the United States. The center of the star features the head of Minerva, who is the Roman goddess of wisdom and war. Around Minerva’s head are the words “United States of America” and each ray of the star has a green oak leaf, to symbolize strength. On the opposite side, the medal is engraved ‘The Congress to [Recipient’s Name]’. The medal is comprised of metal, red brass, and gold plating.
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The first group of men to wear the Medal of Honor were awarded for their actions during “The Great Locomotive Chase” in April 1862 during the Civil War. These volunteer Union soldiers went deep into the enemy Confederate territory to destroy bridges and railroad tracks between Chattanooga, TN and Atlanta, GA.
The US Navy has awarded 749 medals to members of the US Navy. In addition, members of the US Marines and US Coast Guard are also eligible to receive this medal. There have been 299 medals awarded to members of the US Marine Corps and one medal awarded to a member of the US Coast Guard.
The Navy version of the Medal of Honor is described as a five-pointed bronze star, each tipped with trefoils that contain a crown of laurel and oak. In the middle of the medal is Minerva to symbolize wisdom and war and personify the United States. She stands with her left hand resting on the fasces, or a bundle of rods, and her right hand holding a shield that has the coat of arms of the United States blazoned on. Minerva repulses Discord which is represented by snakes and is appropriate in the context of the Civil War’s discord. The Navy Medal of Honor is made of solid red brass.
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The lone US Coast Guard Medal of Honor recipient is Signalman 1st Class Douglas Munro. Munro earned his Medal of Honor during World War II at Guadalcanal on September 27, 1942. It was here that 500 Marines were dropped off to establish an inland patrol base. After hearing that the Marines who were dropped off were under attack by a huge enemy force, Munro quickly volunteered to evacuate the battalion. With great leadership, planning, and devotion, Munro saved over 500 men but perished in action. His last words were “Did they get off?” referring to the last few Marines left to be evacuated.
US Air Force
There have been 18 medals awarded to members of the US Air Force since it was created in 1965.
This medal is more distinct in its design when compared to the US Navy and US Army Medals of Honor. It is 50% larger than the other medals and the current design includes a gold five-pointed star within a green laurel wreath. Each point of the star is tipped with trefoils and contains a crown of laurel and oak on a green background. In the center of the star and the medal is an annulet of 34 stars circling the head of the Statue of Liberty to represent beauty, strength, and wisdom. The word VALOR is above an adaption of the thunderbolt from the Air Force Coat of Arms. This medal is also made of metal, bronze, and gold plating.
Did you know?
The first Medal of Honor awarded to an airman was the famous fighter pilot Captain Edward Rickenbacker in 1918 by the US Army for his heroic service during World War I. As a member of the 94th Aero Squadron, he became the leading U.S. ace during WWI with 26 confirmed victories. As impressive as this was, he earned his Medal of Honor on September 25, 1918, when he was patrolling alone in France. He eyed seven enemy aircraft and aggressively shot down two.
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