From the NFRW Armed Services Committee
By CAPT (ret) Mary Smart, Hawaii
The Medal of Honor is the highest award for valor in combat and honors the recipient’s extraordinary heroism and risk of life while demonstrating the values of Courage, Sacrifice, Citizenship, Integrity, Commitment, and Patriotism.
We celebrate U.S. Medal of Honor Day every March 25th as a result of Congressional Action and the signing of Public Law 101-564 by President George H.W. Bush in 1991 to renew awareness and appreciation of the sacrifice and valor of the very few service members who have been awarded this recognition.
The origin of the Medal began in 1861 when Iowa Senator James. W. Grimes proposed this medal for enlisted seamen and marines who distinguished themselves "by gallantry in action and other seamanlike qualities" during the American Civil War. President Abraham Lincoln signed the legislation that created the Navy’s Medal of Honor. The Army established their Medal of Honor Award shortly thereafter in 1862.
Although the recognition came in 1894, the first military action recognized was for Bernard J. D. Irwin’s rescue of 60 soldiers in Apache Pass, Arizona. In 1915, Navy, Marine Corps,and Coast Guard members were authorized to receive the Medal of Honor and in the 1960s the U.S. Air Force created its version of the Medal.
There have been fewer than 3,600 Medal of Honor awards for actions above and beyond the call of duty in over 150 years, with 40% of them awarded during the Civil War. Mary Edwards Walker, a Civil War Army surgeon was the first and only woman to be awarded the Medal of Honor.
The Medal of Honor is worn before all other decorations and suspended by a light blue neck ribbon with 13 white stars. The Medal of Honor service ribbon consists of a light blue ribbon with 5 white stars that form an “M” on the ribbon.