If you have read the stories of just a few out of all the 3,522 Medal of Honor recipients, you may have noticed one similarity: the actions from these stories read like stuff from the movies. They may seem impossible.
But then, that is why the Medal of Honor has been received by only a tiny fraction of the millions who have ventured onto battlefields in the service of the United States.
It is quite common for the award to be awarded posthumously, due to its nature.
Having been in existence for about 155 years, the Medal of Honor, being the highest military decoration of the United States, continues to recognize and reward U.S servicemembers for “conspicuous gallantry and intrepidity at the risk of life.”
Below are 22 things you probably don’t know about the Medal of Honor:
The Medal of Honor has only had one female recipient
Her name was Dr. Mary Edwards Walker. At the outbreak of the Civil War, she volunteered with the Union Army, serving temporarily as a nurse before going on to become the first female surgeon of the Army.
Notably, her award was revoked in 1917 because she was a civilian and the updated criteria of the award strictly focused on combat service.
However, in 1977, five decades after her death, her Medal of Honor was restored.
The youngest recipient of the award was only 13 years old
Drummer boy Willie Johnston received the prestigious award at the age of 13 for his commendable composure during the Civil War.
Some may argue that the recognition for the youngest recipient should go to the indestructible Jack Lucas–who got the award at 17 for jumping over two grenades to save his comrades–owing to the fact that the medal in the modern sense is dedicated to combat service.
But the Medal of Honor of the Civil War days is still the Medal of Honor of today, and although he was not a combatant, Willie’s medal was never revoked.
It is safe, though, to say that Jack Lucas is the youngest man to receive the Medal of Honor for combat service.
It can be awarded to non-citizens
In fact, sixty-five recipients of the Medal of Honor have been Canadians who served with the US armed forces.
Altogether, more than eight hundred non-citizens have been decorated with the Medal of Honor.
Although you needn’t be a U.S citizen, you have to be serving with the US military in order to be eligible for the award.
Recipients have the rare privilege of getting saluted by senior officers, including the President
Alongside this, a Medal of Honor recipient is by default invited to all Presidential inaugurations for life.
Nine hundred and eleven Medals of Honor have been revoked
It must be a terrible experience to have your Medal of Honor revoked after celebrating the achievement of such a status. But In 1916, it was decided that some Medals of Honor had been awarded for reasons other than distinguished service, and consequently, about 911 recipients lost the decoration.
This affected soldiers of the 27th Maine Regiment who had served during the Civil War, servicemen who served as Abraham Lincoln’s funeral guards, and several civilians including “Buffalo Bill” Cody and Mary Walker.
Cody and Walker’s medals, as well as those of four other people, were restored many years later.
Medal of Honor recipients have many distinct benefits
Just to mention a few, recipients get a 10 percent pension bonus alongside a monthly allowance worth $1,259 (US dollars). There is a burial plot reserved for them at Arlington National Cemetery.
In their lifetime, they are covered by the DOD Regulation 4515.13-R to travel anywhere they like by air for free. Their family members are allowed the same travel privilege as long as they accompany the Medal of Honor recipient.
Wearing someone else’s medal is against the law
US law is particularly unfriendly to those who wear military decorations without authorization, and in the Stolen Valor Act it specifies heavier punishment for display of Medals of Honor by persons other than the rightful owners.
Funnily, though, it is not illegal to falsely claim that you own a Medal of Honor. You can say it, but dare not show it.
Only one U.S President received the Medal of Honor
President Theodore Roosevelt is the only president in US history to have received the Medal of Honor. His son, Theodore Roosevelt Jr., also received the decoration during World War II.
The Medal of Honor has three variants
There is one for the Army, one for the Navy, and one for the Air Force.
On 25th March 1863, the first Medal of Honor was presented to Private Jacob Parrott, a member of the Andrew Raiders, for his voluntary participation in the raid of a Confederate train during the Civil War.il War.
There are men who have two Medals of Honor
This is quite outstanding, and if you think a new medal should be made specifically for those who go as far as to earn such a rare honor twice, you’re not alone.
There are 19 men who have had the honor twice. Fourteen earned it in two different actions, while the others earned it in one action which was recognized and endorsed for the Medal of Honor by both the Army and the Navy.
Congressional Medal of Honor?
Well, contrary to popular belief, it is simply called Medal of Honor, nothing more, nothing less.
But it is quite understandable how this came about, because the Medal of Honor is presented to recipients “in the name of the Congress.”
However, it is not the “Congressional Medal of Honor.”
The Medal of Honor has just two pairs of father-son recipients
The first pair was Arthur and Douglas MacArthur, and as previously mentioned the second pair was President Theodore Roosevelt and his son Theodore Roosevelt Jr.
Five pairs of brothers have earned the Medal of Honor
They are: John and William Black, Henry and Charles Capehart, Harry and Willard Miller, Allen and James Thompson, and Antoine and Julien Gaujot.
The Medal of Honor was once investigated for racism
This first happened in 1993, and sprang from the fact that no African-American who had served in World War II had been decorated with the award.
The investigation resulted in the upgrading of ten recipients of the Distinguished Service Cross to the Medal of Honor.
Another investigation occurred in 1998 regarding Asian-Americans, and ended in twenty-two awards going to deserving Asian-Americans.
More than 50 percent of the Medals of Honor awarded since 1941 have been presented posthumously.
The idea of a Medal of Honor was initially disregarded when first proposed.
Before it became America’s most prestigious award, it had its fair share of debates, with General Winfield Scott giving it a resounding “Nay” and saying it was just too European.
Earning a Medal for saving a Medal recipient
That is the story of Michael Thornton. He risked his life to save his comrade, Thomas Norris, who had been approved for the Medal of Honor six months earlier.
This was the only time since the 1871 Korean Expedition that a Medal was awarded to someone for saving another recipient.
The first African-American recipient
In 1864, Robert Blake became the first African-American to receive the award. William Carney was actually the first to come under the spotlight for his actions at Fort Wagner, South Carolina on 18 July 1863, but he received his Medal years after Blake did.
Only one African-American has earned it twice
His name was Robert Augustus Sweeney, and he is one of the previously mentioned nineteen men in history to have won two Medals of Honor.
The Navy was the first to adopt the Medal of Honor
The US Navy was the first to adopt the Medal of Honor. It was followed almost immediately by the US Army, which came up with its own version.
The Medal of Honor has been awarded to Unknown Soldiers
The award was first issued posthumously to unknown British, French, American, Italian, Belgian and Romanian soldiers who died in service during World War I.
After World War II and the Korean and Vietnam Wars, Congress approved the posthumous decoration of unknown American soldiers from those wars.
Four Americans were chosen for this decoration, and their medals are kept at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier at Arlington National Cemetery.