For National Medal of Honor Day on March 25, we honor the valor that the most courageous servicemen and servicewomen in the United States military have displayed. Awarded by the President of the United States, only military members who have gone above and beyond the call of duty will receive this distinction. There are actually three different versions of the Medal of Honor, for the Army, the Navy, and the Air Force, though Coast Guard members and Marines are also eligible to earn the Navy version. To date, there have been 3,468 Medals of Honor awarded to those who fight to keep our country safe – and today is the day to honor their exemplary service.
History of National Medal of Honor Day
Going above and beyond the call of duty in the military deserves all the awards we can bestow. After all, it’s these brave people who secured and still protect the freedoms we uniquely enjoy in this country, something we often take for granted. Today, we’ll look at the history of the award to better honor those who earn it.
Though the first request for a medal of valor was submitted in 1861, at the onset of the civil war, the general-in-chief rejected the proposal on the basis that a medal of valor simply sounded too European. It wasn’t until after he retired in late 1861 that the General of the Navy adopted the idea for his branch, and the Navy soon after ordered nearly 200 medals from the US Mint in Philadelphia.
After Lincoln approved a US Navy Medal of Valor in December of 1861, the US Army Medal of Honor was approved less than a year later. It was in 1863, during the Civil War, that the first Medal of Honor was given. A Union raiding party had recently destroyed Confederate railways and important transportation in Tennessee and Georgia – these six men became the first recipients of the award.
During the course of the Civil War, 40% of the Medals of Honor that have been given up until now were distributed. During this time, the first Black recipients of the Medal of Honor were designated; sixteen Navy and sixteen Army soldiers were honored for their bravery during the Civil War. The only woman ever awarded the Medal of Honor was Mary Edwards Walker, who served during the Civil War as a surgeon in the Army.
The Army Medal went through a redesign process in 1904 but otherwise has remained largely unchanged for the majority of its existence. In 1917, 911 recipients, including Buffalo Bill, had their medals rescinded, as they were awarded inappropriately. In 1977, an investigation of this act began, and the medal was restored to Buffalo Bill and 4 other civilian scouts in 1989.
Other branches of the military have been designated, but only some came to fruition. The Air Force successfully created their own version of the Medal of Honor, which was formally adopted on April 14, 1965, after having been authorized in 1960. Though a similar honor for the Coast Guard was designated in 1963, the medal has never been awarded. Most recently, Trump awarded the Medal of Honor to Master Sergeant Matthew O. Williams, for acts of conspicuous gallantry in 2008.
National Medal of Honor Day timeline
- October 30, 2019
The Most Recent Medal Awarded
At the time of writing Master Sergeant Matthew O. Williams holds the most recently-awarded Medal of Honor, for acts of conspicuous gallantry.
Coast Guard Honors
A version of the Medal of Honor was authorized for the Coast Guard in 1963.
The Medal Redesigned
In an effort to distinguish the Medal of Honor from other military distinctions, the Army’s version of the Medal was redesigned by General George Lewis Gillespie in 1904.
- March 25, 1863
First Medals of Honor Awarded
The first Medal of Honor was awarded in 1863 by the Secretary of War to six U.S. Army Volunteers.
- March 3, 1863
A Permanent Decoration
On this date, Congress made the Medal of Honor a permanent decoratio and was allowed to be given to Army officers.
National Medal of Honor Day FAQs
Where is National Medal of Honor Day celebrated?
The United States.
What are some veteran organizations I can support?
Some of the best charities to support veterans include Hope for the Warriors, USO, the Navy-Marine Corps Relief Society, and Fisher House Foundation – but there are many more! Do your research and donate to the organization that is most impactful to you.
Are there other National holidays about the military?
Yes! In May, National Military Appreciation Month, there are six military observances. Loyalty Day is May 1, Public Service Recognition Week is May 3-9, Victory in Europe Day and Military Spouse Appreciation Day is May 8, Armed Forces Day is May 16, and Memorial Day is May 25.
Are there other National holidays on March 25?
Yes! March 25 is also International Waffle Day.
How to Observe National Medal of Honor Day
Educate about military service
There is a wealth of books, documentaries, articles, movies, and more that will share more insight into the history of the Medal of Honor and other military accolades. To appreciate what the brave men and women before us have sacrificed, as well as learn more about the country we all call home, dedicate some time to educating yourself.
Remember American heroes
Taking the time to reach out to a veteran or servicemember, volunteer or donate to an organization that supports those in the military, or write to a living Medal of Honor recipient would always be appreciated. Though years may have passed since someone’s service, our troops still deserve praise for what they gave.
Fly the flag
Medal of Honor recipients went above and beyond to protect our country, and the freedom we all enjoy. Today is a great day to feel especially proud of the United States, so fly that flag high!
5 Important Facts About The Medal Of Honor
It’s not pinned on
The Medal of Honor is the only military distinction that is not pinned on - rather, it’s worn around the neck.
At first, it seemed too European
In 1861, when the first rumblings of creating an award like the Medal of Honor were documented, the idea was dismissed by a respected Union Army commander for seeming too European.
Theodore Roosevelt is in the club
Though awarded posthumously in this case, the Medal of Honor was awarded to Theodore Roosevelt for leading the volunteer regiment, the Rough Riders. He is the only president to have received the award.
All ages welcome
n 1863, 13-year-old Willie Johnston became the youngest recipient of the Medal of Honor. He showed valor at age 11 while serving as a drummer boy in his father’s squad.
Not the Congressional Medal of Honor
Though there is some confusion on this topic, the award is simply called the Medal of Honor, not the Congressional Medal of Honor.
Why National Medal of Honor Day is Important
It honors important individuals
No matter how many years have passed since the recipient went above the call of duty for our country, his or her actions remain very brave and commendable. The Medal of Honor is one of the most significant ways to show that the United States is grateful every day for their sacrifice.
Many military members and civilians alike admire Medal of Honor recipients - and for good reason. When we are called to be brave in life, it helps to draw inspiration from the valor of past recipients of this honor.
It shines a light on the military
Being in the military can be grueling and dangerous, so the individuals that choose to serve deserve all the recognition they can get. Awards like the Medal of Honor call attention to the fact that the people who protect our freedoms are some of the toughest on the planet.
National Medal of Honor Day dates