The Medal of Honor was created in 1861, based on separate bills to promote the efficiency of the Army and Navy, and bestowed on those who "distinguish themselves by their gallantry in action."
The bills were signed by President Lincoln, and the medals were designed to celebrate heroes of the Civil War, but the award survived and gained prominence after the conflict, according to the Congressional Medal of Honor Society.
Since 1863, it has been awarded the bravest soldiers, sailors, airmen, Marines and Coast Guardsmen, according to the U.S. Army's website. In the name of Congress, the president awards each medal.
Awarding the actual medal can take years. What is the process of being granted the Medal of Honor?
Fewer than 100 living recipients are among us today.
The process begins right away. Often, service members involved with the act of heroism give sworn statements or include it in a written report so the individual will be recognized for his or her efforts.
Then, the formal recommendation paperwork begins. It moves up the chain of hierarchy. In some cases, this can involve thick files of sworn statements, maps and drawings by fellow service members.
Then, it has to be decided whether the actions of the individual merit the military's highest honor or something lesser like the Distinguished Service Cross, the second-highest medal for valor.
Because the standards for the Medal of Honor are so high, deciding whether someone deserves it can take the longest. Some have argued that the standards have changed and become too high, requiring too much to be rewarded, but top defense leaders say that the way wars are fought now is different.
During and after the Vietnam War, 247 individuals received the Medal of Honor for their actions. None was awarded for Operation Desert Storm or missions in the Balkans, Panama, Grenada or Beirut.
Here's a look at some of the recent recipients:
Are you a veteran? Who was a hero in your unit, or what kind of heroic action have you witnessed? Please share in the comments below.