Celebrating Medal of Honor Recipients: March 25 – National Medal of Honor Day
“They said we were soft, that we would not fight, that we could not win. We are not a warlike nation. We do not go to war for gain or for territory; we go to war for principles, and we produce young men like these. I think I told every one of them that I would rather have that medal, the Congressional Medal of Honor, than to be President of the United States” – Harry S. Truman
Created in 1861, The Medal of Honor is the nation’s highest military honor. Because it is given in the name of Congress, it is sometimes referred to as the “Congressional Medal of Honor.” It’s presented by the President to those in the U.S. armed forces for their personal acts of valor above and beyond the call of duty. The first Medals of Honor were presented on March 25, 1863. On that day, Edwin Stanton, Secretary of War, presented six Medals of Honor to members of “Andrews Raiders” for their participation during the Civil War.
Known as the Great Locomotive Chase, Andrews Raiders consisted of 22 men, including 2 civilians, led by General Mitchell. Their plan was to enter enemy territory in the South and capture a railroad train in Georgia and travel North in order to destroy bridges, railroad tracks and telegraph lines between Georgia and Chattanooga. This, they believed, would stop the Confederate’s supply lines to Chattanooga. Several in the mission were captured and some were executed. Six of those captured were released during a prisoner exchange. Although their mission did not receive the expected results, the participants were recognized for their bravery. The six men released during the prisoner exchange were the first Medal of Honor recipients.
Although first presented more than 150 years ago, it wasn’t until 1990 that Congress designated March 25 as National Medal of Honor Day. Today there are three versions of the Medal – one for the Army, one for the Navy, and one for the Air Force. Recipients from the Marines and U.S. Coast Guard are presented with the Navy version of the Medal of Honor. There have been 3,517 Medals of Honor presented since 1862.
Five Facts about the Medal of Honor
- Although it was awarded posthumously, Theodore Roosevelt was the only U.S. President to receive the Medal of Honor. Roosevelt quit his job as Assistant Secretary of the Navy to lead a volunteer regiment known as the Rough Riders when the Spanish-American War broke out. Although he was originally passed over for the Medal of Honor, President Clinton awarded him the medal in 2001.
- Mary Edwards Walker is the only woman to receive the Medal of Honor. A medical doctor who volunteered with the U.S. Army during the Civil War, she was known to cross enemy lines to treat civilians and was believed to be a spy. Captured by the Confederates and later released during a prisoner exchange, Walker returned to duty. Although Andrew Johnson presented her with the Medal of Honor, it was rescinded when the eligibility requirements changed and Medals were only given to those in combat. The Army Board restored her Medal of Honor in 1977.
- Willie Johnston is the youngest recipient of the Medal of Honor. At just 11 years old, Johnston and his father enlisted in the Union Army during the Civil War. A drummer boy with the 3rd Vermont Infantry, when his unit retreated under the direction of General McClellan, many threw down their guns. Johnston held onto his drum throughout the march. President Lincoln recommended that he receive the Medal of Honor in 1863. At the time he was just 13. More recently, John Lucas, a 17 year old Marine, was awarded the Medal of Honor after he shielded some of his squad from grenades at Iwo Jima.
- There are 19 members of the Armed Forces who have been honored with two Medals of Honor.
- The first Medal of Honor was presented to Private Jacob Parrott. The most recent Medal of Honor was presented to Sgt. Gary M. Rose in 2017.
On National Medal of Honor Day, Veterans Commemoratives, along with our entire nation, remembers and honors the courageous members of the U.S. Military who have been presented with the Medal of Honor. Since 1987 Veterans Commemoratives has been leading the way in honoring all of our Military Veterans with highly customized Military and War Service watches, rings, jackets and other accessories.
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