150th Anniversary of Medal of Honor

One hundred and fifty (150) years ago, on December 21, 1861, during the first winter of the American Civil War, Congress authorized the nation’s first Medals of Honor – for exemplary men of the U.S. Navy. Seven months later the first Medals of Honor were authorized for non-commissioned officers and privates of the U.S. Army, as well. The Medal of Honor is the highest award given to military personnel for valor in battle. The medal is presented to the recipient by the U.S. President in the name of Congress.

The original 1861 act stated “that the Secretary of the Navy be, and is hereby, authorized to cause two hundred [200] “medals of honor” to be prepared, with suitable emblematic devices, which shall be bestowed upon such petty officers, seamen, landsmen, and marines as shall most distinguish themselves by their gallantry in action and other seamanlike qualities during the present war.”

The first Navy recipient of the Medal of Honor was John Williams. His official citation: “Serving as captain of the maintop of the USS Pawnee in the attack upon Mathias Point [VA], 26 June 1861, Williams told his men, while lying off in the boat, that every man must die on his thwart sooner than leave a man behind. Although wounded by a musket ball in the thigh he retained the charge of his boat; and when the staff was shot away, held the stump in his hand, with the flag, until alongside the Freeborn.”

What are the entitlements of a Medal of Honor recipient?

• A monthly $1,000 pension from the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA)

• A 10-percent increase in retired pay, not to exceed the 75 percent maximum, for enlisted recipients who retire with 20 or more years of Military Service.

• A special MOH Travel and Identification Card signed by the Secretary of the Army. This entitles recipients who are not on active duty and not military retirees to utilize space-available military air transportation.

• Wearing their uniforms at any time or place they choose, unlike other military personnel or retirees.

• An issued DOD identification card, as are their family members, for recipients who are not on active duty and military retirees. It authorizes them military commissary, Post Exchange, and theater privileges. All of the services, consistent with DOD policy, authorize use of morale, welfare, and recreation activities, including honorary club membership without dues.

• Children of Medal of Honor recipients are not subject to quotas if they are qualified and desire to attend the U.S. military academies.

• Receiving invitations to attend Presidential inaugurations and accompanying festivities. Military recipients and those who are civil servants have traditionally been authorized administrative absence instead of chargeable leave to attend.

• A special engraved headstone for deceased recipients of the Medal of Honor provided by the VA.

• Should be accorded on base billeting commensurate with the prestige associated with the Medal of Honor.

Links to learn more:
Photo #: NH 1851:  http://www.history.navy.mil/photos/images/h01000/h01851.jpg
“Attack on Acquia Creek Battery by United States Steamers ‘Pawnee’, ‘Anacostia’, and ‘Freeborn’”, 1 June 1861

Line engraving published in “Frank Leslie’s Illustrated History of the Civil War”. It depicts USS Pawnee, in the foreground, shelling the Confederate battery. USS Anacostia is partially visible beyond Pawnee’s stern. USS Thomas Freeborn was also present, but only the tips of her masts are visible, ahead of Anacostia. U.S. Naval Historical Center Photograph.