President Barack Obama presents the Medal of Honor to retired U.S. Army Lieutenant Colonel Charles Kettles for conspicuous gallantry, in the East Room of the White House, July 18, 2016. National Medal of Honor Day, annually on March 25, salutes all the recipients of our nation's highest military decoration. (Official White House Photo by Chuck Kennedy)
By Kiani Dumagan
Every March 25 we salute the nearly 3,500 people who have been awarded the United States’ highest military decoration — the Medal of Honor.
The prestigious military honor is given to individuals in the U.S. Armed Forces who have distinguished themselves by demonstrating extraordinary valor in action against an enemy force.
The first Medals of Honor were awarded on March 25, 1863, to six members of Andrews’ Raiders, who led a Civil War raid known as “The Great Locomotive Chase.” The first of these men to receive the award was Pvt. Jacob Parrott.
Since then, there have been 3,498 total medal recipients. Of those, 19 have earned the honor twice.
Civil War cavalryman 2nd Lt. Thomas Ward Custer, a younger brother of famous George Armstrong Custer, was the first person to earn the distinction more than once. He received his medals for capturing Confederate flags and enemy soldiers on two separate occasions in April 1865.
In 1917, however, laws changed to allow a recipient to receive the distinction only once.
Currently, there are three versions of the medal: one for the Army, one for the Navy and one for the Air Force. Personnel in the Marine Corps and Coast Guard receive the Navy version.
To date, only one Coast Guardsman has been awarded the Medal of Honor. Signalman 1st Class Douglas Munro was given the distinction for his actions at Point Cruz, Guadalcanal, on Sept. 27, 1942, during World War II.
Similarly, only one woman has been awarded the Medal of Honor. Dr. Mary Edwards Walker was recognized for her efforts as a contract acting assistant surgeon during the Battle of Bull Run in 1861.
The decoration, which is also referred to as the “Congressional Medal of Honor,” is presented by the President of the United States in the name of the U.S. Congress. This usually takes place during a formal ceremony in Washington, D.C.
The most recent recipient is retired Army Lt. Col. Charles S. Kettles, who was recognized on July 18, 2016, by President Obama. Kettles is credited with saving the lives of 40 soldiers on May 15, 1967, during the Vietnam War.
Currently, there are proposals for a National Medal of Honor Museum and Education Center to be constructed at Patriots Point in Mount Pleasant, South Carolina. The museum intends to “preserve and present the extraordinary stories of individuals who reached the highest levels of recognition, ‘above and beyond the call of duty,’ in service to the nation,” according to the National Medal of Honor Museum Foundation’s website.
If you would like to commemorate these heroes this upcoming March 25, you can write a “thank you” card to a living Medal of Honor recipient. The Congressional Medal of Honor Society maintains a database of living recipients and instructions on how to reach a recipient if you are interested.