Ten things you should know about the Medal of Honor for its 150th anniversary

This year marks the 150th anniversary of the Medal of Honor, which was  established by an Act of Congress that was signed into law by Abraham Lincoln in December 1861.

Photo Credit: Medal of Honor Society

The Medal, which is “our nation’s highest award for valor in action against an enemy force,” has been bestowed on 3,457 members of the U.S. armed forces. To help commemorate the medal’s sesquicentennial anniversary, here are 10 things to know. 

1. Most recent Recipient 

 Staff Sergeant Leroy A. Petry. In the words of his citaiton, Petry “distinguished himself by acts of gallantry and intrepidity at the risk of his life above and beyond the call of duty in action with an armed enemy in the vicinity of Paktya Province, Afghanistan, on May 26, 2008.” His full citation can be found here.  

2. First Recipient

Bernard J.D. Irwin. He was an Assistant Surgeon in the Army when he voluntarily led a command of troops to relieve a surrounded detachment of the 7th Infantry. Irwin’s Medal was not awarded until January 24, 1894, over 30 years after he had performed his deed.

The first to wear the Medal of Honor were Jacob Parrott and a group of six men for their actions in the “Great Locomotive Chase” April 1862.

3. First African-American Recipient

William Carney. He was awarded the Medal of Honor for his actions on July 18, 1863, at Fort Wagner, SC.

4. Father-son Recipients

Two father-son teams have been awarded the Medal: President Theodore Roosevelt and Brigadier General Theodore Roosevelt, Jr., as well as Douglas MacArthur and Douglas MacArthur, Jr.

President  Roosevelt received the medal for leading the charge on San Juan Hill (making him the only president to receive the Medal of Honor). His son, Brigadier General Theodore Roosevelt Jr. received the Medal for actions on D-Day in WWII. 

 Douglas MacArthur received the Medal for his action during the Civil War. His son, Douglas MacArthur, Jr. for action during WWII. 

5. Where the Medal is worn

The Medal of Honor is worn around the neck. Other military medals are worn over the left breast, normally on formal military uniforms.

6. Saluting Recipients

Although not required by law or military regulation, tradition dictates that members of the uniformed services  salute  recipients of the Medal of Honor as a matter of respect and courtesy regardless of rank or status.

7. Only member of the U.S. Coast Guard to receive the Medal

Douglas Munro. He was awarded the Medal of Honor during WWII for his actions at Point Cruz, Guadalcanal, on September 27, 1942.

8. Percentage of posthumous awards

More than 60% of the Medals of Honor awarded since the beginning of World War II have been awarded posthumously.

9. Fraction of recipients

Forty million veterans have served since the beginning of the Civil War, but fewer than 3,500 Medals of Honor have been awarded.

10. Only woman recipient

Mary Walker is the only woman to receive the Medal. She was a surgeon during the Civil War.

For additional information on the Medal of Honor please visit the Medal of Honor Society’s website.

Beth Specker is the National Constitution Center’s Director of Civic Education.