Army civilian employees pass around Retired Master Sgt. Leroy Petry’s Medal of Honor while attending a Mental Health Awareness Observance May 17, Heritage Hall, Rock Island Arsenal, Illinois. Petry asked the audience to pass around his medal while he served as one of the keynote speakers during the event. Photo courtesy of DVIDS.
The Medal of Honor is the United States’ highest and most prestigious award for valor in military action. The medal is authorized for any military service member in the Army, Navy, Marines, Coast Guard, Air Force, and Space Force who “distinguishes themselves conspicuously by gallantry and intrepidity at the risk of their life above and beyond the call of duty:
“While engaged in an action against an enemy of the United States;
“While engaged in military operations involving conflict with an opposing foreign force;
“While serving with friendly foreign forces engaged in an armed conflict against an opposing armed force in which the United States is not a belligerent party.”
Since President Abraham Lincoln signed the legislation to create the Navy’s Medal of Honor in 1861, there have been changes to the appearance of the medal, but what the medal stands for has always remained the same. In each medal are imbued the values that each recipient displayed in the moment when called upon — courage, integrity, sacrifice, and bravery.
There are three variations of the medal, each with distinguishing features representing branches of the Army, Navy, and Air Force.
Navy, Marine Corps, Coast Guard
Air Force and Space Force
In all, 3,526 Medals of Honor have been awarded to 3,507 recipients to date. Bernard J. D. Irwin rescued 60 of his fellow soldiers in Apache Pass, Arizona, in 1861, actions that became the earliest in time to be recognized with the medal. The most recent Medal of Honor recipient is Sgt. Maj. Thomas P. Payne, who distinguished himself during a daring nighttime hostage rescue in Kirkuk, Iraq, in 2015. From the trenches of France, to the frozen mountains of Korea, to the concrete maze of Ramadi, the medal tells the story of every recipient when they went above and beyond the call of duty.