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Everything you Need to Know about the Medal of Honor and its Significance

President Joe Biden on Tuesday is bestowing the nation’s highest military honor to four Army soldiers for their heroism above and beyond the call of duty during the Vietnam War.

Biden is presenting the Medal of Honor to Staff Sergeant Edward N. Kaneshiro, Specialist Five Dwight W. Birdwell, Specialist Five Dennis M. Fujii, and retired Major John J. Duffy. Speaking in the East Room of the White House, Biden praised their heroism and lamented that they hadn’t received appropriate recognition until now.

For over 150 years, the president, with the approval of Congress, has been awarding the Medal of Honor to individuals who, as the Defense Department describes it, “distinguish themselves through conspicuous gallantry and intrepidity at the risk of life above and beyond the call of duty,” while serving in an armed conflict. So What exactly is the Medal of Honor? What does it take to earn a Medal of Honor? and How it has changed since the Civil War? Watch our Full report below:

Here are some surprising extra facts:

There are actually three different Medals of Honor

The first Medals of Honor, as proposed by Senator Grimes, were specifically for enlisted Sailors and Marines in 1861. The Army followed suit, establishing their own Medal of Honor in 1862. The U.S. Air Force would not have a Medal fo Honor for nearly another century, first introduced in 1965. 

Today, there is one Medal of Honor for the Army, one for the Air Force, and one for the Navy, Marines, and Coast Guard.

The U.S. Army took back 911 Medals of Honor

New designs and regulations pertaining to the Medal of Honor continued to find their way into the books, prompting the U.S. Army to revisit each of the Medals of Honor they had awarded in the past. An Army board was convened, tasked with pouring over the reports and associated documents relating to each Medal of Honor awarded to Soldiers in their branch.

By 1917, the audit was complete, and the U.S. Army had removed 911 Medals of Honor from Soldier’s service records, saying that they had been “erroneously bestowed.”

It comes with a paycheck

There are a number of military and civilian benefits associated with being awarded the Medal of Honor, and at least two come in the form of cold hard cash. 

Living Medal of Honor recipients received a monthly pension of $1,406.73, as well as a supplemental clothing allowance of $841.36 once a year. Medal of Honor recipients also see a 10% increase in their retirement pay.

Only one woman has received the Medal of Honor, and her award was temporarily rescinded.

A medical doctor who supported feminist and abolitionist causes, Mary Edwards Walker volunteered with the Union Army at the outbreak of the Civil War. Despite her training, she initially had to work as a nurse before becoming the Army’s first female surgeon. Known to cross enemy lines in order to treat civilians, she may have been serving as a spy when Confederate troops captured her in the summer of 1864. Walker was later released as part of a prisoner exchange and returned to duty. On November 11, 1865, President Andrew Johnson presented her with the Medal of Honor, making her the only woman to date to receive the decoration. In 1917 the Army changed its eligibility criteria for the honor and revoked the awards of 911 non-combatants, including Walker. Nevertheless, she continued to wear her medal until her death two years later. An Army board restored Walker’s Medal of Honor in 1977, praising her “distinguished gallantry, self-sacrifice, patriotism, dedication and unflinching loyalty to her country, despite the apparent discrimination because of her sex.”

heodore Roosevelt is the only U.S. president to have received the Medal of Honor, which he was awarded posthumously.

When the Spanish-American War broke out, Assistant Secretary of the Navy Theodore Roosevelt famously quit his job to lead a volunteer regiment known as the Rough Riders. Roosevelt and his men played a decisive role in the Battle of San Juan Hill and took part in other confrontations in Cuba. In 1916, less than three years before his death, the 26th president was nominated for the Medal of Honor, but the Army passed him over, citing a lack of evidence for his heroic actions at San Juan Hill. President Bill Clinton posthumously awarded him the decoration in 2001. Roosevelt’s son, Theodore Jr., who served in both World Wars, also received the Medal of Honor.

The award is not called the Congressional Medal of Honor.

Contrary to popular belief, the official title of the highest U.S. military distinction is simply the Medal of Honor, not the Congressional Medal of Honor. The confusion may have arisen because the president presents the award “in the name of Congress.” There is also a Congressional Medal of Honor Society, which represents recipients of the Medal of Honor, maintains their records and organizes reunion events, among other responsibilities.

It’s illegal to wear someone else’s Medal of Honor, but it’s not illegal to pretend you have one.

U.S. criminal law forbids the unauthorized wearing, manufacture and sale of military decorations, and misuse of a Medal of Honor carries a particularly heavy penalty. In 2006 President George W. Bush signed into law the Stolen Valor Act, which imposed a prison sentence of up to one year on anyone falsely claiming to have received a Medal of Honor. (Pretenders to other military decorations faced imprisonment for up to six months.) The Supreme Court struck down the act on June 28, 2012, ruling that it violated the right to free speech guaranteed by the First Amendment.

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