The Medal of Honor: What is it?
May 16th, 2012
01:08 PM ET

The Medal of Honor: What is it?

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:

Soldier priest to get ultimate medal

Medal of Honor recipient Clint Romesha conflicted by joy, sadness

Medal of Honor recipient's valor hidden for decades

Green Beret who died saving comrades awarded Medal of Honor

Army Ranger receives Medal of Honor for Afghanistan heroics

Marine receives Medal of Honor at White House

Medal of Honor recipient gets new title: Dad 

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.

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Filed under: Medal of Honor • Military
soundoff (55 Responses)
  1. Bruce L

    Cheryl's posting is most welcome - most of the cynics on this subject have no idea what they're talking about. As to the Medal of Honor, the DSC, and the other honors the military bestows, I can only think of the line expressed by the admiral at the end of The Bridges At Toko-Ri - "Where do we get such men?" (and women?)

    May 16, 2012 at 2:59 pm | Report abuse |
    • Jj

      how long did it take? How much red tape was there? And people want the govt in charge of their healthcare...Duh

      May 16, 2012 at 5:34 pm | Report abuse |
    • Gary Cross Msgt USAF Retired

      I had the priviledge to meetj while I was on active duty, a gentlement that was wounded on Iwo Jima at the age of 15 and received the Medal of Honor . When he stepped off the bus for a tour of our facility, I stood proud and saluted. I had a Major standing aside and he procededed to chew me out for saluting indoors without my hat on. I laid into him and told him that he should remove his rank and become a civilian because he knew nothing about what that gentleman did. I was proud to have known that Medal of Honor receiptient and disgusted that the major wore the same uniform.

      May 16, 2012 at 6:06 pm | Report abuse |
    • Larry

      Bruce, you're correct. We have a lot of brave men and women, but let's not even classify them that way. They're fellow vets and Americans. Unfortunately, there are a lot if idiots on here who've never cared about anything or anyone but themselves and haven't a clue about the value of living here rather than in many other countries - including the "democracies" of Europe, where I served for three years from 1964 to 1967 at the height of the cold war. It wasn't Vietnam, but the threat from Soviet troops and tanks was just as real. If someone wore a uniform with U.S. brass, they deserve respect.

      May 17, 2012 at 1:08 am | Report abuse |
  2. Duc749

    If only I'd been in the Army. I'd have a nice shiny Bronze Star on my chest for doing nothing more than leaving the wire. Instead, I just got a slap on the shoulder and a "job well done" after I returned from multi-week patrols.

    I guess when your service expects more from you, it's harder to hold your hand out for medals.

    Of course the sacrifices of the Medal of Honor recipients does not applly to my statement above. Their actions surpass any service rivalry and speak volumes to the courage of young American fighting men and women.

    May 16, 2012 at 3:03 pm | Report abuse |

      Hey Devil Dog! You are just too moto ... and you didn't get awarded the BSM because you deployed before the repeal of Don't Ask, Don't Tell. That, and everyone else in your company hated you.

      May 16, 2012 at 3:15 pm | Report abuse |
    • Hossky

      All services have people like that, some that just go out the wire once in a while and get medals for it. I was out for weeks at a time in Iraq. I got a pat on the back while the guys who took day trips out got medals. So don't bring this we're better than you and get nothing crap. All services have guys who didn't get ribbons/medals for this or that.

      May 16, 2012 at 4:24 pm | Report abuse |
    • Veteran 1966-1969

      6 months TDY in Pleiku with PsyOps and we did not have any "wire" Charlie was everywhere in '68

      May 16, 2012 at 4:45 pm | Report abuse |
    • Greg Clapton

      So what's your point?

      May 16, 2012 at 5:42 pm | Report abuse |
  3. LG

    Enlisted men given Medals of Honor are almost always after death. A General/Admiral may have to salute the Private, as receipients are saluted regardless of rank.

    May 16, 2012 at 3:25 pm | Report abuse |
  4. Phillip Brame

    Having spent many years in the USMC and the Army (29yr 10mths 11 days) I know that being awarded the MOH is and will always be the most respected honor a military man/woman can receive. My never ending respect goes to the recipients, any one who deserves and recieves this honor has earned it and the people of this country should hold them in high regard for the sacrifices they have endured.

    May 16, 2012 at 3:27 pm | Report abuse |
    • Larry

      Philip, as a fellow vet, all I can say is: Amen to that.

      May 17, 2012 at 1:04 am | Report abuse |
  5. a disgrace

    to obama this is nothing more than another chance to get attention for himself.

    May 16, 2012 at 4:09 pm | Report abuse |
    • banasy©

      Mrs. Sabo Brown would disagree wholeheartedly.

      May 16, 2012 at 4:16 pm | Report abuse |
    • Proud American

      You are a disgrace.

      May 16, 2012 at 4:39 pm | Report abuse |
    • Inglourious

      @disgrace: This article is not about Obama; why are you bringing your politics into this?

      May 16, 2012 at 4:51 pm | Report abuse |
    • Larry

      As an army vet, your "handle" is appropriate: a disgrace. I suspect you never put your ass on the line for anything or anyone other than yourself.

      May 17, 2012 at 1:01 am | Report abuse |
  6. Hossky

    Maybe if you grow up and serve your country you would know the true meaning of the medal is, and the honor it represents. The medal is by no means worth 25 cents.

    May 16, 2012 at 4:29 pm | Report abuse |

    i was in ssg guintas unit, 2 bn 503d inf reg, 173d airborne bde vicenza italy. i met him one time after he recieved the award. soft spoken guy. i was put in for the arcom with v device for drawing fire while my 249 gunner reloaded. it was denied but i dont care. i didnt do it for the award. i did it to ensure my buddies made it home. we all did thanks to God.

    May 16, 2012 at 4:30 pm | Report abuse |
    • napalm

      That's what the E-4 Mafia does; move out, draw fire.

      May 16, 2012 at 6:58 pm | Report abuse |
    • Larry

      This Army vet salutes you.

      May 17, 2012 at 1:02 am | Report abuse |
  8. Veteran 1966-1969

    But the mandatory salutes one receives from ALL officers including generals are priceless when you are an enlisted soldier wearing the bling.

    May 16, 2012 at 4:41 pm | Report abuse |
  9. POD

    It's like being made a saint in the catholic church.......a lot of politics....and you usually have to be dead to be honored with the award. "many are called , few are chosen"

    May 16, 2012 at 5:07 pm | Report abuse |
  10. bluemax77

    Bit of pressed metal on a ribbon – fair exchange for one’s life..?

    May 16, 2012 at 5:09 pm | Report abuse |
  11. GaryOwen27

    I was not a hero but I served with thousands of them.

    May 16, 2012 at 5:25 pm | Report abuse |
  12. Tim Knecht

    The CMH is special, and deserves to be. Unfortunately, we are in an age that is pathetically seeking "heroes". THE MEDAL is now sometimes going to people who do not warrant it, just to assuage our own feelings. We need to weigh current combat actions against past actions that were judged pro and con the medal, and not just award it to make the people feel good.

    May 16, 2012 at 5:29 pm | Report abuse |
  13. Joe

    Don't forget about Forrest Gump

    May 16, 2012 at 7:14 pm | Report abuse |
  14. PTSDrecipient

    Les Sabo made amazing decisions and performed with unbelievable bravery. His situation reminds me of a man whom I knew. He served in Da Nang. He re-upped twice until he was denied. He said he'd see those young boys who looked so fresh and innocent when thhey arrived who had no idea what they were about to experience, so he volunteered because he knew he was already mentally gone. He was awarded a Purple Heart and the experience that earned his medal reads like a portion of Specialist Sabo's. He was the only survivor while his unit was under attack. During the attack he kept running supplies and fuel to them. When he was rescued by helicopter, the helicopter was shot down and he was the only survivor of that attack, as well.

    When he moved with only a few possessions, he had his clothes and his Army mementos including his Purple Heart. He never commented under which Administration he served nor under which he received his medal. It wasn't about the President. He later died from kidney cancer. (many suspect that Viet Nam soldier's kidney diseases were caused by Agent Orange exposure). He also had severe PTSD (post traumatic stress syndrome). He didn't die in combat, but he gave his mental health in service, as many do.

    Specialist Sabo, we salute you. The remaining POWs and MIAs of war, many have not forgotten you.

    May 16, 2012 at 9:09 pm | Report abuse |
  15. Jim Trego

    As a 66 year old Vietnam vet, 66-67, I am disgusted at some of these comments. Leslie H. Sabo Jr. is a hero. Anyone who would suggest Obama did this for votes are talking out of their ass. He deserved it, he saved lives and his widow and family should be proud. I know I am. Another brother gets what he deserves. God bless him and everyone who served.

    May 16, 2012 at 9:18 pm | Report abuse |
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