Medal of Honor 

The Medal of Honor is the highest award for valor that can be bestowed upon an individual serving in the armed services of the United States. It is awarded to service members who distinguish themselves "conspicuously by gallantry and intrepidity at the risk of [their] life above and beyond the call of duty."

The Medal of Honor is the highest award for bravery bestowed by the Armed Forces of the  United States. It is awarded for bravery above and beyond the call of duty, at the risk of one’s own life, and almost always for actions in combat. The standards for bestowing the medal are so high and so rigid that since World War II, most awards are posthumous--the recipient being killed or mortally wounded in the action that merited the award. For example, one of the most common, if it can be called common, deeds to warrant the medal was performed by men who threw themselves on hand grenades to save others. (At least nine men survived this brave act.)  

The Medal of Honor is the capstone of the Pyramid of Honor that includes all of the medals and decorations awarded by the US Armed Forces and is the oldest continuously awarded military decoration of the United States. (The Order of Merit, established by George Washington during the Revolution, fell into disuse until the 200th anniversary of Washington’s birth in 1932 when it was reestablished as the Purple Heart and awarded to those wounded in action.)  

The present high status of the medal was not always the case. When first created during the  Civil War its award standards were quite flexible, even including the phrase “… and other soldier-like qualities…”    The medal, therefore, was often awarded for acts that today would merit a lesser decoration.  Many Civil War awards, for example, have citations such as “capture of the flag” with no further details on how the flag was captured. The most glaring example of abuse, however, is the awarding of 864  Medals of Honor–one for each member–to the soldiers of the 27th Maine Volunteer Infantry; a nine-month regiment that saw no action.  

Before we entered World War I, the medal started to be viewed as an award for outstanding heroism, and concerns were raised over the prestige being diluted by earlier and less restrictive presentations. In 1916, by the direction of Congress, a military review board was established to review previous awards, with many awards being revoked or downgraded. The medal became established as recognition for almost mystical valor. 

The first design of the medal for the Army and the Navy featured a five-star pointed bronze star with a scene depicting the Roman goddess Minerva repulsing Discord. Today, the Navy retains that image on its award. The Army design now depicts the head of Minerva in a green-wreathed gold star. The Air Force design replaces Minerva with the head of the Statue of Liberty and shows thunderbolts. 

In 1919, the Navy created two versions of the Medal of Honor, one to be awarded for bravery in combat and the other for bravery not involving combat. Because of the confusion caused by two different medals with two different sets of standards, the noncombat Medal (also called the  Tiffany Cross) ceased to be awarded after 1942. 

The Medal of Honor, often called the Congressional Medal of Honor because it is the only military decoration awarded “in the name of Congress”, has been bestowed on sixty-one service members from New Hampshire. The story of most of the recipients can be found by internet search.  

Additionally, the story of the Medal of Honor and its recipients has long been the subject of books and film. Alvin C. York’s story in World War I is covered by Gary Cooper in the film, Sergeant York.  Audie Murphy is the subject of both the book and film Into Hell and Back, where the World War II  hero plays himself in the film.  A recent addition to the film is Hacksaw Ridge, depicting the amazing deeds of Army medic Desmond Doss, the only conscious objector to receive the medal.  Other coverage of the exploits of Medal of Honor recipients include New Hampshire’s Ryan Pitts,  as told in the book, Medal of Honor: Ryan Pitts by Michael P. Spradlin, and on the internet, medalofhonor/pitts/battle/index.html. George Dilboy is the subject of Carved in Stone: The Story of George Dilboy by Richard Rozakis. Admiral Richard O’Kane tells of his experiences in Clear the  Bridge: The War Patrols of the USS TANG, and WAHOO: The Patrols of America’s Most Famous World  War II Submarine. Others tell O’Kane’s story in The Sinking of the Forty Nine by James W. Meekin and  The Bravest Man by William Tuohy. Leonard Wood is the subject of several books including Leonard  Wood: Rough Rider, Surgeon, Architect of American Imperialism by Jack McCallum and Armed Progressive: General Leonard Wood by Jack Lane. He is also portrayed in the film Rough Riders. 

The following books are some of the best in covering the history of the Medal of Honor: • The United States of America’s Congressional Medal of Honor Recipients and Their Official Citations • The Medal of Honor: The Evolution of America’s Highest Military Decoration by Dwight S. Mears • A Shower of Stars: The Medal of Honor and the 27th Maine by John J. Pullen (Several New  Hampshire men belonged to this mostly York County, Maine Regiment) 

Please note: The Medal of Honor citations are printed as found so there are inconsistencies in wording. For example, one citation may use the term“machinegun” and another may use the term “machine gun.” 

Stuart B. Lord, Chair, Education and History Subcommittee 

New Hampshire Veterans Cemetery Association, Inc.