The History of the Medal of Honor
You may know that the Medal of Honor is the nation’s most prestigious military award, but there’s more to the medal than meets the eye. Below, you’ll find information about its origins, the recommendation process, and the benefits that accompany it.
Following the start of the Civil War in 1862, Bill S. No. 82 was introduced to the Senate. According to the Congressional Medal of Honor Society, its goal was to “promote the efficiency of the Navy” by means of awards that would "be bestowed upon such Petty Officers, Seamen, Landsmen, and Marines as shall most distinguish themselves by their gallantry in action and other seaman-like qualities during the present war”. Two months later, a resolution was introduced to create a similar Medal of Honor for the Army.
The medal would undergo several more alterations in the coming years: the official wording was tweaked, the medal would become a permanent decoration, and the design was updated. Finally, a hundred years later, the design of the medal for the Department of the Air Force was created and then adopted in 1965. (Previously, members of the Air Force had received the Army’s version of the Medal). This meant that each military department of the Department of Defense (Army, Navy, and Air Force) now had its own version of the medal.
The recommendation process is extremely thorough; the submission is reviewed and vetted by each group or person it is sent to and can take upwards of 18 months. It starts off with a recommendation package from a service secretary or a recommendation from a member of Congress. Depending on which path is taken, the nomination is then sent through a chain-of-command review or ordered to be reviewed by the Service Secretary. If the nomination gets past this stage, it is then sent to the Decorations Board which decides to recommend the Medal of Honor, a lesser award, or no award to the service member. If the Decorations board recommends the Medal of Honor, the nomination is then reviewed and approved by the Service Chief, the Secretary of the Military Department, the Secretary of Defense, and finally, the president. These are all the main points of review, but the nomination is examined by more than these people and groups. If it gets through every level of approval - a very high bar - the Medal is then awarded by the president.
The Medal of Honor comes with more than just pride and recognition. Here are the highlights of the tangible benefits that accompany the medal:
- A Department of Defense I.D. which allows them to use military facilities (including recreational club memberships and theaters) for free.
- A $1,259 monthly pension.
- For those who retire with 20 or more years of service, a 10% increase in retired pay.
- Invitations to attend Presidential inaugurations
- For deceased recipients, a specially engraved headstone
In recognition of their acts of immense bravery and service to their country, 3,473 people have been bestowed with the Medal of Honor. If you’d like to hear their stories in bite-size 2-3 minute episodes, check out the Medal of Honor podcast, made in collaboration with the Medal of Honor Museum.