Medal of Honor: History and Issues

By David F. Burrelli

Library of Congress, Congressional Research Service

Foreign Affairs and National Defense Division

Revised 15 December 1998


The Medal of Honor is the nation's highest military award for bravery. It is awarded by the President in the name of Congress. For this reason, it is often referred to as the Congressional Medal of Honor. Since it was first awarded in 1863, 3,409 individuals have been awarded this medal. Nineteen individuals have been double recipients of the award.

Recipients of the Medal of Honor are afforded a number of benefits as a result of this award.

Since its inception, the laws and regulations that apply to the award have changed. In certain cases, the award has been rescinded. Six of the rescinded awards have been reinstated.

On a number of occasions, legislation has been offered to waive certain restrictions and to encourage the President to award the Medal of Honor to particular individuals. Generally speaking, this type of legislation is rarely enacted. In a very limited number of cases, the medal has been awarded outside the legal restrictions concerning time limits. These cases are often based on technical errors, lost documents or eyewitness accounts, or other factors that have justify reconsideration. These cases, however, represent the exception and not the rule.




"The Medal of Honor is the highest award for bravery that can be given to any individual in the United States of America. Conceived in the early 1860's and first presented in 1863, the medal has a colorful and inspiring history which has culminated in the standards applied today for awarding this respected honor.

In their provisions for judging whether a man is entitled to the Medal of Honor, each of the armed services has set up regulations which permit no margin of doubt or error. The deed of the person must be proved by incontestable evidence of at least two eyewitnesses; it must be so outstanding that it clearly distinguishes his gallantry beyond the call of duty from lesser forms of bravery; it must involve the risk of his life; and it must be of the type of deed which, if he had not done it, would not subject him to any justified criticism.

A recommendation for the Army or Air Force Medal must be made within 2 years from the date of the deed upon which it depends. Award of the medal must be made within 3 years after the date of the deed. The recommendation for a Navy Medal of Honor must be made within 3 years and awarded within 5 years.

Apart from the great honor which it conveys, there are certain small privileges which accompany the Medal of Honor. . . .

The Medal of Honor is presented to its recipients by a high official "in the name of the Congress of the United States." For this reason it is sometimes called the Congressional Medal of Honor.

As a general rule, the Medal of Honor can be earned--by a deed of personal bravery or self-sacrifice above and beyond the call of duty--only while a person is a members of the American Armed Forces in actual combat with an enemy of the Nation. This was the case, for example, during World Wars I and II and the Korean conflict. However, the Navy Medal of Honor could be and has been on several occasions, awarded to noncombatants.

On a few, rare occasions, the Congress of the United States has awarded special Medals of Honor for individual exploits taking place in peacetime. Such a Medal of Honor was awarded Capt. Charles A. Lindbergh for his "heroic courage and skill as a navigator, at the risk of his life, for his nonstop flight in his airplane from New York to Paris, France, 20-21 May 1927." In peace or war, this medal is the highest decoration which can be given in any of the Armed Forces--Army, Navy, Marine Corps, Air Force, or Coast Guard.

Since its beginning, the awarding of the Medal of Honor has been subjected to numerous changes. Although not the first award, the medal became very popular. Cases of abuse, wherein soldiers obtained the award surreptitiously and used it to solicit charity, have been cited.

As of this printing, 3,428 Medals of Honor have been awarded to 3,409 recipients. There have been 19 double recipients (14 for separate actions and five received both the Army and Navy Medals of Honor for the same action). Since World War I, there has been an implied reluctance to award the Medal more than once to the same person.

During the Civil War, President Lincoln, in need of troops, awarded the medal to the members of a single regiment (the 26th Maine Volunteer Infantry), as an inducement to keep them on active duty. Due to a clerical error, the entire unit (864 men) received the medal, this despite the fact that only 309 men actually volunteered for extended duty (the rest went home). Others were awarded the medal under questionable circumstances. William F. (Buffalo Bill) Cody and others were awarded the medal although they were civilians serving with the military. Mary Edwards Walker, a contract surgeon (civilian) and the only woman to receive the medal, was allegedly awarded the medal during the Civil War to placate her after the termination of her contract with the army. Questions of her medical skills and loyalties to the Union have been raised. "

In 1916, a board was created to determine eligibility for the award and to review the cases of those who had already received the award,

"And in any case . . . in which said board shall find and report that said medal was issued for any cause other than that hereinbefore specified, the name of the recipient of the medal so issued shall be stricken permanently from the official Medal of Honor list. It shall be a misdemeanor for him to wear or publicly display such medal, and, if he shall be in the Army, he shall be required to return said medal to the War Department for cancellation."

All of the 2,625 medals awarded up to that time were considered by the board and nearly one-third (911) were canceled. Most of these canceled awards constituted those issued to the 27th Maine Volunteer Infantry. William Cody's and Mary Edwards Walker's awards were canceled as well.

In 1918, during U.S. participation in World War I, Congress decided to clear away any inconsistencies of the legislation which had grown around the Army medal and make a set of perfectly clear rules for its award.

. . . the provisions of existing law relating to the award of the Medals of Honor . . . are amended so that the President is authorized to present, in the name of Congress, a Medal of Honor only to each person who, while an officer or enlisted man of the Army, shall hereafter, in action involving actual conflict with an enemy, distinguish himself conspicuously by gallantry and intrepidity at risk of his life above and beyond the call of duty.

Policies, regulations and guidance were provided to commanders throughout the following years concerning the medal for the Army as well as the other Services. In many ways, these later awards were better documented. Such documentation served as standards for the consideration of other deeds in awarding the Medal of Honor or other appropriate awards (i.e. the Silver Star, Bronze Star, etc.). Examples of citations of Medal of Honor awards from various periods are included in the appendix.

Under current law:

The President may award, and present in the name of Congress, a medal of honor of appropriate design, with ribbons and appurtenances, to a person who while a member of the Army [Naval Service--i.e, Navy, Marine Corps and Coast Guard, or Air Force], distinguishes himself conspicuously by gallantry and intrepidity at the risk of his life above and beyond the call of duty--

(1) while engaged in military operations against an enemy of the United States;

(2) while engaged in military operations involving conflict with an opposing foreign force; or,

(3) 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.


Current Policy and Benefits


The following is from the Department of Defense Manual of Military Decorations & Awards:

Procedures Involving Recommendations for the Medal of Honor

"1. The Secretary concerned shall establish procedures for processing recommendations for the award of the Medal of Honor within his or her Department. However, as a minimum, these recommendations shall contain the endorsement of the subordinate Unified Commander or Joint Task Force Commander, if involved; the Unified or Specified Commander concerned; and the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff. After endorsement by the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, the recommendation shall be referred to the Secretary concerned for appropriate action.

"2. Except as provided in 10 U.S.C. 3744 or 8744 . . ., recommendations for the Army and Air Force Medal of Honor must be entered formally into official channels within 2 years of the act warranting the recommendation, and awarded within 3 years. Recommendations of the Navy-Marine Corps Medal of Honor, except as provided in Section 6248 . . ., must be formally entered into official channels within 3 years of the act warranting the recommendation, and awarded within 5 years.

"3. Recommendations for award of the Medal of Honor disapproved by a Service Secretary, or the Secretary of Defense, may only be resubmitted if new, substantive and material information is provided within the time limits contained in 10 U.S.C 3744, 6248, and 8744 . . . . The information forming the basis must have been previously unknown and not considered by the recommending and disapproving officials. The determination of the existence of the new material and substantive information being a basis for reconsideration may not be delegated below the Service Secretary.

"a. The remaining bases for reconsideration are instances in which a Service Secretary or the Secretary of Defense determines there is evidence of material error or impropriety in the original processing of or decision on a recommendation for award of the Medal of Honor. Examples of such instances might be loss of accompanying and/or substantiating documents to the recommendation or proven racial or gender discrimination. Determination of the existence of material error or impropriety in the original processing and decision shall not be delegated below the Service Secretary. In such cases, the Secretary of Defense shall determine the need for legislation.

"b. All other instances of reconsideration shall be limited to those in which the formal recommendation was submitted within statutory time limits, the recommendation was lost or inadvertently not acted upon, and when these facts are conclusively established by the respective Service Secretary or other official delegated appropriate authority. These provisions are to protect the integrity and purity of purpose of the Medal of Honor by ensuring that all relevant information is submitted and considered while the actions are fresh in the minds of the witnesses."

[The process for restoration of a rescinded Medal of Honor is different. Since the rescissions during World War I, no other Medal of Honor awards have been rescinded. However, if a request for a restoration of a Medal of Honor were made, the process would be different than the procedures noted above. For those seeking restoration of the Medal of Honor, an appeal must be considered by the appropriate Board for Correction of Military Records. This appeal is requested via the President, a Member of Congress, or the Secretary of Defense. If the Board recommends reinstatement, the decision is passed to the service Secretary and then, ultimately to the President.]


Presentation of the Medal of Honor


"When practical, presentation of the Medal of Honor shall be made by the President of the United States, as CINC [Commander-in-Chief], in a formal ceremony in Washington, D.C. As such, premature public disclosure of information concerning recommendations, processing and approval or disapproval actions is a potential source of embarrassment to those recommended and the Government. In addition, in the case of approved recommendations, it could diminish the impact of ceremonies at which the presentation is made. Therefore, to prevent premature disclosure, the policy of the Department is not to comment on any Medal of Honor case under consideration. Accordingly, the processing of Medal of Honor recommendations shall be handled on a "FOR OFFICIAL USE ONLY" basis until the awards are announced officially or are presented.

Courtesies and Privileges Afforded Medal of Honor Recipients

1. Enlisted personnel who are awarded the Medal of Honor are authorized one automatic promotion if not already serving in the highest enlisted grade.

2. Each recipient receives a monthly [$600.00] pension from the Department of Veterans Affairs.

3. Enlisted recipients who retire with 20 or more years of service receive a 10 percent increase in retired pay, not to exceed the 75 percent maximum [that a retiree with 30 or more years of service can receive].

4. Recipients are issued a special Medal of Honor Travel and Identification Card signed by the Service Secretary. This entitles recipients who are not on active duty and not military retirees to use space-available military air transportation.

5. Unlike [active duty and reserve] military personnel and retirees, Medal of Honor recipients may wear their uniforms at any time or place they choose. They receive a special uniform issue in conjunction with this privilege.

6. Recipients who are not on active duty and not military retirees are issued a DoD Identification Card, as are their dependents. It authorizes them military commissary, post exchange, and theater privileges. All of the Services, consistent with DoD policy, authorize use of morale, welfare and recreation activities, including honorary club membership without dues.

7. Children of Medal of Honor recipients are not subject to quotas if they are qualified and desire to attend one of the U.S. military academies.

8. All Medal of Honor recipients, as members of the Congressional Medal of Honor Society, receive invitations to attend Presidential inaugurations and accompanying festivities. Military recipients and those who are civil servants have traditionally been authorized administrative absence in lieu of chargeable leave to attend.

9. Some States have special license plates for Medal of Honor recipients.

10. The Department of Veterans Affairs provides a special engraved headstone for deceased recipients of the Medal of Honor.

11. Many installation commanders memorialize deceased Medal of Honor recipients by naming streets, buildings, or halls in their honor.

12. Medal of Honor recipients should be accorded on-base billeting commensurate with the prestige associated with the Medal of Honor.


Congressional And Other Efforts to Award the Medal of Honor


Generally speaking, the originating request for military awards, including the Medal of Honor, is made by the military commander or other appropriate uniformed personnel. Those on the scene and/or those familiar with military operations are often considered to be in the best position to observe the individual actions and make the recommendation for award. It is considered appropriate, therefore, that military personnel, i.e., those familiar with human behavior under the stress of combat situations, make the originating recommendations regarding this or other awards.

In a number of instances, Members of Congress or others have urged the President to consider or reconsider an individual for the Medal of Honor. Over the years, Members of Congress have offered numerous bills for this purpose. Much of this legislation takes the form of extensive findings detailing the background, situation, and exploits concerned. Where important, special mention may be made of the reason(s) the Medal of Honor was not originally awarded (i.e., a presumption of racism, lost documents recently uncovered, etc.). The legislation then resolves that notwithstanding restrictions contained in title 10 U.S.C. (i.e., restrictions pertaining to time limits), the President is "requested" to award the Medal of Honor. In certain cases, Congress has held hearings concerning the award.

The handling of these requests, if and when forwarded to the services, varies depending on whether or not the individual was originally recommended for the Medal of Honor (or in certain cases, had already received the Medal), versus those instances in which no original recommendation was made.

Generally speaking, the services will not favorably consider awarding the Medal of Honor unless the individual was originally recommended but did not receive the award because of extenuating circumstances (i.e., the paperwork was lost and only rediscovered, allegations exist that the individual's award was downgraded for reasons of racism, etc.). In nearly every case, specific findings of fact are required that the individual was originally recommended or that the downgrade occurred under questionable, but verifiable, circumstances. In these cases, a review may be undertaken by the Board of Correction for Military Records of the appropriate military department. Following the findings of the Board of Correction for Military Records, the decision is then passed to appropriate authorities for further and/or final consideration. This approach has not usually been successful.

In cases where no original recommendation has been made, extensive and reliable findings of valid facts must be presented. In these instances, since there is no original record to "correct," the Board of Correction for Military Records is not necessarily involved in the consideration process. Without an original recommendation, factual data supporting the award, and compelling reasons for it to be awarded at a later date, it is very unlikely that the Medal of Honor will be awarded. This is particularly so, given that a great deal of time has often passed, and eyewitnesses cannot be found, or do not clearly remember the events in question.

Nevertheless, on numerous occasions, legislation has been introduced seeking to have the Medal of Honor awarded. The legislation is assigned to the appropriate committee/subcommittee. An executive comment is usually requested by the committee. In most cases, the executive comment proves unfavorable and the legislation is not reported out of committee.

In recent times, there have been a number of specific instances in which the Medal of Honor was awarded or reinstated outside of the statutory time limits. In one case, the award was renounced. The following describes these instances.

For his actions in Vietnam on May 2, 1968, MSgt. Roy Benavidez, U.S. Army, was awarded the Distinguished Service Cross (the second highest Army award for heroism below the Medal of Honor). His commander later recommended that the award be upgraded to the Medal of Honor. The upgrade was denied until a missing eyewitness was located in 1980. President Carter approved the upgrade on December 31, 1980. On February 24, 1981, President Reagan awarded MSgt. Benavidez the Medal of Honor.

The family of Marine Col. Donald G. Cook (deceased) received his Medal of Honor award on May 16, 1980 for his services during captivity as a POW in North Vietnam from Dec. 31, 1964 through his death in captivity on Dec. 8, 1967. Information of his heroics were only obtained after the repatriation of other POWs. Col. Cook's award was delayed in part because he had not been officially declared dead.

President Carter awarded the medal to former Lt. Col. Matt Urban (U.S. Army) for his services during World War II. Urban's battalion commander promised to nominate him for the award but was killed in action. A review of Urban's records in 1978 revealed a copy of the proposed letter. There is no evidence, however, that the letter was received by the headquarters of the 9th Infantry Division in Europe. Under the provisions of the law, a President can make the final decision of awarding the medal "at any later time in cases of administrative error."

On July 29, 1986, Charles Liteky, a former Army chaplain in Vietnam, renounced his Medal of Honor in protest over U.S. policies in Central America. Liteky's is the only known case in which a Medal of Honor has been renounced.

On April 24, 1991, President Bush awarded the Medal of Honor (posthumously) to Cpl. Freddie Stowers, U.S. Army, for his services in World War I. Although blacks had received the award for other conflicts before and since, Stowers was, at the time, the only black to be awarded the Medal of Honor for either World War. This presentation followed a review of the award by the Army into citation records to determine whether or not blacks were treated fairly.

Perhaps one of the more contentious awardings of the Medal of Honor involved the case of the Civil War civilian contract surgeon, Mary Edwards Walker. She was awarded the Medal of Honor by President Andrew Johnson on November 11, 1865 for "services rendered during the war." An extremely flamboyant and controversial character, it has been argued that the award was made to placate her for being terminated by the Army. As with certain other medal recipients of her day, no specific act of heroism was cited for receiving it. Under the review panel's considerations, Dr. Walker's award was stricken because she was not a member of the armed forces and because her services did not involve "actual conflict with an enemy, by gallantry or intrepidity, at the risk of life, above and beyond the call of duty."

At the behest of distant relatives, Members of Congress and President Carter contacted the Department of Defense on the matter. The Army Board for Corrections of Military Records ruled (with one dissent) that the decision to rescind the award was "unjust." Although the Board noted that if it had not been for her sex, she would have been given a commission and her actions would have been those of a soldier, no specific act of gallantry or heroism was noted. In 1977, her medal was restored. The restoration of the medal remains highly contentious among both proponents and opponents of this action.

On September 12, 1980, President Carter awarded Anthony Casamento, a Marine Corps veteran of combat against the Japanese on Guadalcanal during World War II, the Medal of Honor. Lacking sufficient witnesses to attest to certain deeds, military officials argued that Casamento should be awarded only the Navy Cross. The President overruled the Pentagon (including the Secretary of Defense) and awarded the Medal of Honor. Critics contend President Carter's action were timed for political effect as the President awarded the medal just prior to an election-year appearance before the National Italian-American Foundation.

Following the example of the reinstatement of the Award to Dr. Walker, relatives of William F. "Buffalo Bill" Cody sought reinstatement of his medal, in part on the grounds that since Dr. Walker's was reinstated, there existed a precedent for awarding the medal to civilians who served with the military. Cody was originally awarded the Medal of Honor on 22 May 1872 for his gallantry while serving as an Army Scout on 26 April 1872 at the Platte River, Nebraska. At the request of a U.S. Senator serving as the counsel for a relative, the Board for Correction of Military Records recommended reinstatement of "Buffalo Bill" Cody's medal citing in part the award of Dr. Walker. In June, 1989, the U.S. Army Board of Correction of Military Records restored the award and on July 8, 1989, two Senators announced the restoration of Cody's medal. [Four others also had their Medals reinstated by the Board in June of 1989: Amos Chapman (Scout), William Dixon (Scout), James B. Doshier (Post Guide), and William H. Woodall (Scout).]

Throughout the years, many efforts to award or reinstate the Medal of Honor have proven to be time consuming and difficult. For example, advocates for Seaman Doris [AKA Dorie or Dorrie] Miller have sought for years to have his award upgraded to the Medal of Honor. During the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor on December 7, 1941, while serving aboard the USS West Virginia as a mess attendant (one of the only jobs available to blacks in the Navy at the beginning of World War II), Seaman Miller moved his mortally wounded captain to safety. He then proceeded to man a machine gun, successfully returning fire on the attacking Japanese. His heroics were initially ignored. After strong civil rights protests, he was given a letter of commendation. The letter of commendation was upgraded to the Navy Cross. A destroyer escort was later named in his honor. Legislative and other efforts to upgrade the Navy Cross to the Medal of Honor have proven unsuccessful. Noting that at the time, no blacks received the Medal of Honor during WWII, critics cite racism as a main reason for refusing Seaman Miller this honor.

The reluctance to upgrade awards to the Medal of Honor or to award it outright is generally based on efforts to award the medal to those truly deserving, to maintain the integrity of the award itself and the awards process in general, and, to avoid "opening the flood gates" to retroactive requests for this and other awards and decorations. This reluctance has lead many to feel that the system of awarding medals is overly restrictive and that certain individuals are denied earned medals.

In the FY 1996 National Defense Authorization Act, Congress enacted language that could significantly affect potential recipients. First, Congress waived the time limitation on any award or decoration for acts of valor during the Vietnam era for actions in the Southeast Asia theater of operations. (Although the findings section of the language implies the language pertains to operations in the Ia Drang Valley (near Pleiku, South Vietnam) from October 23, 1965 to November 26, 1965 no such limitation appears in the waiver statement. Indeed, medals--including the Medal of Honor--were awarded for this action.) Under this language, the Secretary concerned is instructed to review requests for consideration of awards/decorations, and to submit the following to the House National Security Committee and the Senate Armed Services Committee:

a. A summary of the request consideration.

b. The findings resulting from the review.

c. The final action taken on the request for consideration.

Second, Congress waived the laws and regulations for awarding any decoration (including the Medal of Honor) for those so deserving who were serving in intelligence activities between the period January 1, 1940-December 31, 1990. The Secretary of each military department was instructed to review each request for the award of a decoration during a one-year period commencing February 10, 1996. This was later extended to February 9, 1998. The Secretary was further instructed to file a report with the House National Security Committee and Senate Armed Services Committee with respect to each request. The report is to contain:

a. A summary of the request consideration.

b. The findings resulting from the review.

c. The final action taken on the request for consideration.

d. Administrative or legislative recommendations to improve award procedures with respect to military intelligence personnel.

These actions were taken in consideration of the fact that the records regarding intelligence activities are sealed for many years. Protecting this information for intelligence reasons means that those involved in intelligence activities are often ineligible to receive the Medal of Honor. In other words, should a person serving in intelligence perform an act of heroism worthy of the Medal of Honor, it is unlikely that the information could be publicly acknowledged. If the information is ever declassified, it is usually years after the fact. This delay could well mean that the individual who performed the act of heroism would be ineligible for the medal because of time on making recommendations.

Third, Congress waived the time requirements and other restrictions and the asked the Secretary of the Army and the Secretary of the Navy to review the records relating to the award of the Distinguished Service Cross and Navy Cross, respectively, awarded to Asian-Americans or Native American Pacific Islanders who served during World War II. The purpose of this review is to determine whether such awards should be upgraded to the Medal of Honor. The reasoning for this review is based on claims of discrimination that confronted Americans of Asian decent during the war. (For example, many Americans of Japanese decent were relocated to internment camps during the war.)

On October 12, 1998, it was reported that Army historians had completed a two-year search for Asian-American recipients of the Distinguished Service Cross. The names of 104 recipients (including Senator Daniel K. Inouye) were forwarded to a board of senior officers. This board is to consider if any of the forwarded recipients meet the criteria for an upgrade to Medal of Honor. According to the report, the Army anticipates the board will recommend approximately ten recipients for upgrading. The list of those considered worthy of upgrading is then submitted to the President for final consideration. (The Navy has determined that its sole Asian-American Distinguished Service Cross. recipient did not merit upgrading.) Proponents of the review/upgrading view this process as an overdue recognition of the heroics of these individuals long delayed by racism. Critics contend that the process is an act of "race-based political correctness" that diminishes the value of the Medal.

Lastly, Congress included a section entitled "Procedure for Consideration of Military Decorations Not Previously Submitted In Timely Fashion." Under this section:

a. Upon request of a Member of Congress, the Secretary concerned shall review a proposal for the award or presentation of a decoration (or the upgrading of a decoration), either for an individual or a unit, that is not otherwise authorized to be presented or awarded due to limitations established by law or policy for timely submission of a recommendation for such award or presentation. Based on such review, the Secretary shall make a determination as to the merits of approving the award or presentation of the decoration and other determinations necessary to comply with subsection (b).

b. Upon making a determination under subsection (a) as to the merits of approving the award or presentation of the decoration, the Secretary concerned shall submit to the Committee on Armed Services of the Senate and the Committee on National Security of the House of Representatives and to the requesting member of Congress notice in writing of one of the following:

1. The award or presentation of the decoration does not warrant approval on the merits.

2. The award or presentation of the decoration warrants approval and a waiver by law of time restrictions prescribed by law is recommended.

3. The award or presentation of the decoration warrants approval on the merits and has been approved as an exception to policy.

4. The award or presentation of the decoration warrants approval on the merits, but a waiver of the time restrictions prescribed in law in not recommended.

A notice under paragraph (1) and (4) shall be accompanied by a statement of the reasons for the decision of the Secretary.

Under this language Members of Congress will be able to directly request the Secretary to consider awarding military decorations. Although this allows Members to better serve their constituents as well as fulfill their Constitutional duties in providing oversight, critics contend that it may unduly politicize the awards process.

In April, 1996, despite restrictions on discussing awarding the Medal of Honor prematurely, the White House announced that it plans to award the medal to seven black soldiers who fought in World War II. Although a number of Members of Congress had been working in favor of awarding certain of these individuals medals, the White House announced that these awards would be forthcoming. On May 13, 1996, the Senate included a section in its version of the FY97 National Defense Authorization Act waiving the time limits for awarding the Medal of Honor to:

1. Vernon J. Baker, who served as a first lieutenant in the 370th Infantry Regiment, 92nd Infantry Division.

2. Edward A. Carter, who served as a staff sergeant in the 56th Armored Infantry Battalion, 12th Armored Division.

3. John R. Fox, who served as a first lieutenant in the 366th Infantry Regiment, 92nd Infantry Division.

4. Willy F. James, Jr., who served as a private first class in the 413th Infantry Regiment, 104th Infantry Division.

5. Ruben Rivers, who served as a staff sergeant in the 761st Tank Battalion.

6. Charles L. Thomas, who served as a first lieutenant in the 614th Tank Destroyer Battalion.

7. George Watson, who served as a private in the 29th Quartermaster Regiment.

In the cases of Vernon J. Baker, Edward A. Carter and Charles L. Thomas, their Medal of Honor pensions were awarded retroactively.

On January 20, 1998, President Clinton awarded retired U.S. Marine Corps Major General James Day the Medal of Honor for his heroism as a Marine corporal during the battle for Okinawa in 1945. The original paperwork for his award was lost. Faded carbon copies of the recommendation surfaced in a fellow Marine's memorabilia and served as the basis for going forward with the award.

Later in the same year, former U.S. Navy Hospital Corpsman Robert Ingram was awarded the Medal of Honor by President Clinton. Ingram's "comrades discovered at a 1995 reunion that he was alive and had never been decorated for his heroism,..." The Navy claimed to have lost the original paperwork. Following the congressionally mandated waiver of the time limits in November 1997, a review of Ingram's record resulted in the awarding of the Medal.

In a symbolic gesture, then-President Reagan, awarded the Medal to the Vietnam Veteran interred at the Tomb of the Unknowns in Arlington Cemetery in 1984. On May 14, 1998, the remains of the Vietnam veteran were exhumed. Advances in forensic identification using DNA testing allowed the military to positively identify the remains as those of Air Force 1st Lt. Michael Blassie, an A-37 pilot who was killed in the battle of An Loc, Vietnam, on May 11, 1972. His remains were returned to his family in Missouri. Family members sought to retain the Medal award in 1984 by President Reagan. The request to retain the Medal was denied. "... [I]n a letter to the family ..., Undersecretary of Defense Rudy de Leon said the Pentagon had decided that the medal had been a symbolic award to all service members who lost their lives in the conflict and not to any individual service member."

"A decade-long effort by Congress to honor black war heroes has culminated in a strange result: Theodore Roosevelt, a famous white man, may soon receive the Medal of Honor -- for a battle some historians say was won by black soldiers." The efforts of historians searching for cases justifying the presentation of the award to black service members in the World Wars, and the legislation allowing Congress to waive time restraints for such and other cases, unearthed the controversy regarding Roosevelt. Under the time waiver Congress enacted in 1996, Rep. Paul McHale introduced legislation requesting the President to award the Medal of Honor to then-Army Lt. Col. Theodore Roosevelt for his actions on July 1, 1898 in the attack of San Juan Heights, Cuba, during the Spanish-American War. Rep. McHale argued that the Medal was not awarded because of resentment generated as a result of Roosevelt's criticism of the War department. Although it has been reported that the Army opposes presenting the Medal of Honor to Roosevelt, President Clinton signed the bill into law and requested the Army to reconsider. Representatives of "Buffalo soldiers" claim that providing the award to Roosevelt would give him [Roosevelt] credit for "their success" in battle. Proponents contend this is an opportunity to amend a 100-year slight. Still others view this as the continuation of "identity politics" driving the awarding of the Medal of Honor.


Statutory Restrictions


Occasionally, claims made by individuals that they have received the Medal of Honor prove to be untrue. (False claims were somewhat more prevalent prior to the review of the medal beginning in 1916.)

The following statutes apply:

Whoever, in any matter within the jurisdiction of any department or agency of the United States knowingly and willfully falsifies, conceals or covers up by any trick, scheme, or device a material fact, or makes any false, fictitious or fraudulent statements or representations, or makes or uses any false writing or document knowing the same to contain any false, fictitious or fraudulent statement or entry, shall be fined not more than $10,000 or imprisoned not more than five years, or both.

In addition:

a. In General.-Whoever knowingly wears, manufactures, or sells any decoration or medal authorized by Congress for the armed forces of the United States, or any of the service medals or badges awarded to the members of such forces, or the ribbon, button, or rosette of any such badge, decoration or medal, or any colorable imitation thereof, except when authorized under regulations made pursuant to law, shall be fined under this title [18 United States Code] or imprisoned not more than six months or both.

b. Congressional Medal of Honor.

1. In General.-If a decoration or medal involved in an offense under subsection a. is a Congressional Medal of Honor, in lieu of the punishment provided in that subsection, the offender shall be fined under this title, imprisoned not more than 1 year, or both.

2. Definitions.-a. As used in subsection a. with respect to a Congressional Medal of Honor, "sells" includes trades, barters, or exchanges for anything of value.

The discharge certificate (DD 214) of a recipient of the Medal of Honor carries a notation of this award.

Thanks to David Burrelli for providing me with the 15 December1998 revision of the above document. I have done some minor editing to the document.

Go to: History of the Medal of Honor

Go to: Vietnam Medal of Honor Citations

© 1998 by Neil Mishalov