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National Medal of Honor Day

  • Published
  • By By Lt. Col. Chad Sessler
  • 375th Contracting Squadron commander

SCOTT AIR FORCE BASE, Ill. -- The nation celebrates March 25 as Medal of Honor Day, giving reflection to the men and women who have earned our nation’s highest medal for valor.

It’s awarded to members of the military services who have distinguished themselves “conspicuously by gallantry and intrepidity” above and beyond the call of duty. 

The act of valor must occur while “engaged in action against an enemy of the United States, while engaged in military operations involving conflict with an opposing foreign force, or while serving with friendly foreign forces engaged in an armed conflict against an opposing armed force in which the United States is not a belligerent party.”  

An interesting fact is that a forerunner to the Medal of Honor was actually the Badge of Military Merit, introduced by George Washington in 1782.  However, it did not become known as the Medal of Honor until the Civil War.  And, you may be surprised to learn that the Medal of Honor Museum is located on the hangar deck of the USS Yorktown at Patriots Point in Mount Pleasant, South Carolina.  

The date of March 25 was chosen because that was the first day the Medal of Honor was awarded in 1863.  The intent for this day is to bring about public awareness as well as foster appreciation and recognition for the recipients of the award. 

It’s often referred to as the Congressional Medal of Honor, as there are organizations that gather and track information about the recipients, but it is also appropriately just called the Medal of Honor. There are three variations of the medal to include one for the Army, Navy, and Air Force.  Each version includes a five-pointed star and is constructed with different details specific to the respective service.

There have been over 3,500 recipients since its creation with almost half of them awarded for actions during the American Civil War, however because requirements were tightened, only 842 have received it since. This includes one U.S. president and one woman with the youngest recipient earning his award at age 11. 

In reviewing the citations you will see a notable difference in the text and detail throughout the medal’s history—from the first recipient, Civil War Union Army Private Jacob Parrott, who led raids to destroy bridges and railroad tracks deep in enemy territory, to recently announced recipient, Army Staff Sgt. Travis W. Atkins, who is credited with saving the lives of three soldiers when he threw himself atop a suicide bomber in Iraq.

However, the consistent themes with all recipients are that they put others before self and they exemplify the values of the medal which include courage, sacrifice, patriotism, citizenship, integrity, and commitment. 

There are numerous ways we can observe National Medal of Honor Day and remember the sacrifices of those in uniform who earned the highest military honor.  These observances may include flying the U.S. flag, attending retreat ceremonies or adopting a gravesite of a recipient. There are numerous websites and TV programs that provide information about the Medal of Honor. I encourage everyone to just take a moment learn more about what it means to be awarded the Medal of Honor and to remember those who sacrificed so much for all of us.