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THE MEDAL OF HONOR

1862 TO PRESENT

When considering the design of the Medal of Honor there are two factors one must remember:

1)  The Medal of Honor was designed in the early days of the Civil War to represent the valiant efforts of the Union Army, Navy and Marines, and

2)  Over the years as the Medal has become a historic symbol of the bravest of the brave, in respect to all who have earned it, little has been done to change its design.

THE ORIGINAL NAVY MEDAL OF HONOR

The Navy's Medal of Honor was the first approved and the first designed.  The initial work was done by the Philadelphia Mint at the request of Secretary of the Navy Gideon Welles.  The Mint submitted several designs for consideration, and the one prepared by the Philadelphia firm of William Wilson & Sons was the design selected.

The selected Medal of Honor design consisted of an INVERTED, 5-pointed STAR.  On each of the five points was a cluster of LAUREL  leaves to represent victory, mixed with a cluster of OAK to represent strength.  Surrounding the encircled insignia were 34 stars, equal to the number of stars in the U.S. Flag at the time....one star for each state of the Union including the 11 Confederate states.

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Inside the circle of 34 stars were engraved two images.  To the right is the image of Minerva, the Roman goddess of wisdom and war.  On her helmet is perched an owl, representing WISDOM.  In keeping with the Roman tradition, her left hand holds a bundle of rods and an ax blade, symbolic of authority.  The shield in her right hand is the shield of the Union of our states (similar to the shield on our seal and other important emblems.)

Recoiling from Minerva  is a man clutching snakes in his hands.  He represented DISCORD and the insignia came to be known as "Minerva Repulsing  Discord".  Taken in the context of the Civil War soldiers and sailors struggling to overcome the discord of the states and preserve the Union, the design was as fitting as it was symbolic.

 

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NAVY MEDAL OF HONOR (1862)
  For all practical intents and purposes, the Navy Medal of Honor remains the same today as it did when it was born.  The only change has been in the attachment that connects it to the ribbon, and the ribbon itself.  Originally the Navy Medal of Honor was suspended from its red, white and blue ribbon by an anchor wrapped with a length of rope.  The reverse side of the Medal was inscribed with the words "Personal Valor" above an open area in which the recipient's name could be engraved.

ARMY  MEDAL OF HONOR (1862)
  Struck from the same die as the Navy Medal of Honor, the original Army Medal differed only in the emblem that attached it to the same red, white and blue ribbon as the Navy.  Replacing the anchor was an eagle perched on crossed cannon and clutching a saber in its talons.  Replacing the words "Personal Valor" on the back of the Medal were the words "The Congress To" with an area to engrave the recipient's name.

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ARMY  MEDAL OF HONOR (1896)
  The first change in the Medal of Honor occurred in 1896 and dealt ONLY with the ARMY Medal of Honor.  The change resulted after Congress authorized the wearing of a rosette or ribbon in lieu of the Medal in 1895.  Following this step, Congress provided for replacement ribbons to recipients whose ribbons had deteriorated with age.  In an effort to distinguish the Medal of Honor from awards being produced and distributed by various veterans organizations, the new suspension ribbon was introduced.

The change in the design of the ribbon was not enough distinction for the Medal of Honor for many recipients including Civil War hero Brigadier General George Gillespie.  With the full support of Secretary of War Elihu Root at the turn of the century, the idea of a redesigned Army Medal of Honor gained momentum.   One of the leaders in the effort was Horace Porter who had just received the Medal of Honor (July 8, 1902) for his own heroism during the Civil War.  The U.S. Ambassador to France, Porter had a new design prepared by the Paris firm of Messrs. Arthur, Bertrand, and Berenger.  He shared this design with Secretary Root, then sought the approval of the officers of the Medal of Honor Legion.  On April 23, 1904 Congress authorized the new design for the Army Medal of Honor.

To protect the new design from being copied as had been the earlier Medal, General Gillespie sought and obtained a patent in November, 1904.  The following month he transferred the patent to Secretary of War William Taft. 

Gillespie  MEDAL OF HONOR (1904)
  The new Army Medal kept the star but modified the face of the Medal.   The words "United States of America" replaced the ring of 34 stars and "Minerva Repelling Discord" was changed to display a simple profile of the helmeted Goddess of War.  The oak clusters remained in the points of the star, now in a dark enameled green.  The laurel clusters were moved to a wreath where they too were enameled in green, in the shape of an open wreath.  The eagle that had once perched on cannon, saber in its talons, now perched on a bar bearing the words "VALOR" and the shafts of arrows.

  The ribbon likewise was changed from its red, white and blue to a single light blue color on which was embroidered thirteen stars.  The reverse of the Medal continued to bear the words "The Congress To", but these words were now printed on the back side of the "VALOR" bar, the full back of the Medal itself unadorned to provide for information on the recipient.

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NAVY MEDAL OF HONOR (1913)
  Since its birth the Navy's Medal of Honor, presented also to members of the Marine Corps and Coast Guard, has not changed.  In 1913 the anchor that connected it to the suspension ribbon was changed slightly when the rope was removed.  At the time of that change the ribbon too changed to the same blue silk ribbon bearing 13 stars that was used with the Army Medal of Honor.

Since the Navy awarded Medals of Honor for both COMBAT and NON-COMBAT heroism, in 1919 the Department of the Navy decided to distinguish between the two acts by presenting a different Medal of Honor for each.  The Original Medal would be presented for COMBAT heroism and the new MALTESE CROSS would signify NON-COMBAT heroism meriting the Medal of Honor.  Designed by New York's TIFFANY & COMPANY, it became known as the "Tiffany Cross".

TIFFANY CROSS (1919)
    The blue silk ribbon of the Maltese Cross hung below a bar bearing the old English spelling for valor, "VALOUR".  The Medal itself featured the American eagle in the center of the award and surrounded by a six sided border over the top of which was printed "UNITED STATES NAVY" AND "1917 - 1918".  An anchor protruded outward from each of the cross's four arms and the back of the medal bore the words "Awarded To" with a place for the recipient's personal information.

  The "Tiffany Cross" was not a popular award and is the rarest of all Medals of Honor in existence.  In 1942 it was dropped from the Medal of Honor profile and the Navy returned to its original Medal of Honor as the only design awarded.

 

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Though it was not uncommon for Medals of Honor to continue to be pinned to a soldier's tunic during World War II, the practice of draping it around a recipient's neck became increasingly used.   For this purpose the modern Medal of Honor was suspended from an 8-sided "pad" bearing 13 white stars, to which the blue silk neck ribbon was attached.

The Medal of Honor is the only United States Military Award that is worn around the neck rather than pinned to the uniform.

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AIR FORCE  MEDAL OF HONOR (1965)
  Authorized in 1956, the Air Force unveiled its own design for the Medal of Honor in 1965.  About 50% larger than the other services' Medals of Honor, it retained the laurel wreath and oak leaves of the Army Medal which had previously been presented to members of the Army Air Service and Air Corps.  It also retained the bar bearing the word "VALOR".  Inside the circle of stars the helmeted profile of Minerva from the Army's medal is replaced by the head of the Statue of Liberty.   Replacing the Army's eagle is the Air Force Coat of Arms.

 

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RIBBON AND ROSETTE

On May 2, 1895 Congress authorized "a rosette or knot to be worn in lieu of the medal and a ribbon to be worn with the medal."  Today's Medal of Honor Ribbon is blue with FIVE stars, 2 at the top and 3 at the bottom.  (One of the most common mistakes people make when displaying Medal of Honor graphics is to display the ribbon up-side down.)

The six-sided blue silk rosette bears 13 stars and is worn on civilian attire.  Medal of Honor recipients also wear the Medal itself around the neck of civilian attire for special occasions.

NOTES:

When the patent on the Medal of Honor first obtained by General Gillespie expired in 1918 Congress intervened to protect the Medal's integrity.  In 1923 legislation was enacted to prohibit the unauthorized manufacture of medals awarded by the military services.  Additional legislation since then has taken steps to further protect the awards presented to our military heroes, and the Medal of Honor in particular.  

As long as our Nation has veterans of military service there will be "war stories" and embellished tales of battlefield heroics.  Such is the nature of military men.   Sadly, some have stooped to the lowest levels by claiming or displaying medals they are not authorized.  Misrepresentation of ones' self as a Medal of Honor recipient is a CRIME punishable by imprisonment. 

 

     

 

[History of the Medal of Honor]  [The First Presentation]
 [Development of the Medal in Appearance] [Time Line of MOH History
  [MOH Statistics]   [Interesting Facts about the Medal
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[MOH Museum]    [National Medal of Honor Day]    [Links]

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[Medal of Honor -- BLESSING or BURDEN]

 

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