Commentary

March 29, 2013

Medal of Honor has distinguished history

Scout Reports

Monday marked the 150th year the Medal of Honor has been presented to service members.

On March 25, 1863, Secretary of War Edwin Stanton presented Medals of Honor to six of the surviving members of Andrew’s Raiders. They were the first medals ever presented.

March 25 was declared National Medal of Honor Day by the U.S. Congress and honors Medal of Honor recipients nationwide. According to the “Military Times,” 3,460 have received the award, and 80 survive. The medal is the highest military honor and is presented by the president of the United States on behalf of Congress.

The recipients are chosen each year from hundreds of nominations across the U.S. by the Congressional Medal of Honor Society. They are chosen based on a display of heroism or commitment to putting others first, to show how ordinary citizens can share the same traits as war heroes.

According to the Congressional Medal of Honor Society website, http://www.cmohs.org, the award has a history that actually dates back to March 3, 1847. Then, Congress authorized a “certificate of merit” to be presented by the president when a “private soldier distinguishes himself in the service.”

On Feb. 13, 1861, Army Assistant Surgeon Bernard Irwin rescued 60 Soldiers at Apache Pass, Ariz. Though the Medal of Honor wouldn’t be presented to him until 1894, it was the first heroic act for which the medal would be awarded.

On May 24 of the same year in Alexandria, Va., Army Pvt. Francis Edwin Brownell performed the first action of the Civil War to merit the Medal of Honor.

A few months later, on July 21, Dr. Mary Walker, the only woman to receive the medal, and 10 Soldiers at the Battle of Bull Run performed actions that eventually made them recipients of the Medal of Honor.

Then, on Dec. 9, 1861, Iowa Sen. James Grimes, chairman of the Senate Naval Committee, introduced federal bill S.J.R. No. 82 in Congress to create a medal of honor to promote the efficiency of the Navy.

On Feb. 17, 1862, Massachusetts Sen. Henry Wilson introduced a bill to provide for an Army Medal of Honor.
Originally, the Army Medal of Honor was intended for enlisted servicemen. However, the Act of 3 March 1863 extended the presentations of the Army Medal of Honor to officers, as well as noncommissioned officers and privates.

On March 25, 1863, Stanton physically presented the first Medals of Honor to six of the surviving members of Andrew’s Raiders.

A few months later, on July 18, at Fort Wagner, S.C., the 54th Massachusetts Colored Infantry faced their first major test of combat. William Harvey Carney became the first African-American awarded the medal.

On April 23, 1890, The Medal of Honor Legion was established to protect medal’s integrity.

On March 3, 1915, the president was authorized to present the medal to officers. Previously it was for enlisted personnel.

In 1946, the Congressional Medal of Honor Society was formed. It was later absorbed into the Congressionally Chartered Congressional Medal of Honor Society of the United States of America on Aug. 14, 1958.

The Air Force introduced the design for their Air Force Medal of Honor in 1965. Each branch of service now had its own medal design.

World War I had yielded no African-American Medal of Honor recipients, due to prejudices of the time. President George H.W. Bush corrected this when he presented the Medal of Honor to the family of Cpl. Freddie Stowers on April 24, 1991.

Racial prejudice had also prevented the awarding of the medal to any African-American Soldiers during World War II. President Bill Clinton presented medals to the families of six deceased World War II heroes and one living hero, Vernon Baker, on Jan. 13, 1997.

In ceremonies at the White House on June 21, 2000, Clinton presented the Medal of Honor to 22 World War II veterans. All the medals went to Asian-Americans who were denied earlier recognition due to racism.

On Feb. 11, 2013, President Barack Obama presented the award to Staff Sgt. Clinton Romesha for the war on terrorism. It was the ninth award presented since March 31, 2009, and the most recent.




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