The Congressional Medal Of Honor Society of
the United States of America is perhaps the "most exclusive organization"
in our country...it is certainly one of the most unique. Its small membership
includes men of all races, social classes and economic levels. They range in stature
from 5'2" to 6'5", in age from 48 to 90, and they live in all areas of
our Country. Among them are scholars and ordinary men, successful enterpreneurs and
struggling laborers, ministers and misfits, very rich to very poor. No amount of
money, power or influence can buy one's rite of passage to this exclusive circle, and
unlike almost any other organization, this group's members hope that there will be NO MORE
INDUCTEES. Beyond this attitude towards recruitment, about all they have in common
is a passionate love for the Untied States of America and the distinct honor of wearing
our Nation's highest award for military valor, The Medal of Honor.
WHY A MEDAL OF HONOR SOCIETY?
Just as the Medal of Honor itself has grown and
developed since 1862, so to has the society that represents the men who wear it. It
is doubtful that in 1862 anyone thought that the newly created award would achieve the
prominence that it did. By the end of the Civil War only 680 of the total 1520
Medals of Honor ultimately awarded for the conflict, had actually been presented. In
the 35 years following the Civil War another 105 were awarded for Civil War actions as
well as almost 500 for other actions including the Indian Campaigns and the Korean action
of 1871. In the last decade of the century aging Civil War veterans began to seek
recognition of their prior service and heroism in requesting awards of the Medal.
(From 1890-1900 a total of 683 were awarded....more than were awarded during the war
itself.) The Grand Army of the Republic had also designed and begun presenting
awards of its own (some of which looked very similar in design) to military veterans, and
confusion arose as to WHO was truly a Medal of Honor recipient. Added to that were
the imposters...sorry individuals who passed themselves off as war heroes to feed their
own egos. Thus it was that on April 23, 1890 the MEDAL OF HONOR LEGION was formed by
the true recipients themselves in order to protect the integrity of the Medal. A
large purpose of this early forerunner of today's Medal of Honor Society was
legislative...lobbying for necessary changes to protect the integrity of the Medal of
The efforts of the Medal of Honor Legion led to
many changes including the review of 1917 and establishment of the Pyramid of Honor
providing awards other than the Medal of Honor distinguished actions that did not merit
the Medal of Honor. Accordingly, on April 27, 1916 the United States Congress
directed that an HONOR ROLL be established listing the names of any veteran over
age 65 who had served in any war and received the Medal of Honor. This was to be
maintained by the War Department for the Army and by the Navy Department for sailors and
Marines, primarily for the express purpose of validating war veterans applications for the
special $10 per month pension paid to Medal of Honor recipients over age 65. (39
By 1940 the number of living Medal of Honor
recipients had dropped to 279, most of them older veterans. The last Civil War
recipient had died just two years earlier. World War II focused new attention upon
Medal of Honor heroes, many of them coming home to active roles as "celebrities"
promoting war bond drives. The impact of World War II on the Medal of Honor was
perhaps as dramatic as the changes of 1917:
Propelling the Medal to increased prominence and
recognition in American Society,
Providing the Nation with a group of new young
war heroes. Though more than half the men who received Medals of Honor during World
War II died in their moment of valor, 190 living heroes were added to the Medal of Honor
This new prestige attached to the Medal along with
the fresh group of war heroes, many of whom were the subject of books and movies, led to
the creation in 1946 of the MEDAL OF HONOR SOCIETY. Less political than its
predecessor, the organization became more concerned with perpetuating the ideals embodied
in the Medal...promoting patriotism and fostering a love of Country in the aftermath of
World War II.
On August 5, 1958 President Dwight Eisenhower
signed legislation sent to him by Congress chartering the CONGRESSIONAL MEDAL OF
HONOR SOCIETY. The purposes of the organization were clearly spelled out in its
charter (which can be found in Title 36 U.S.C., Chapter 33). They included:
- Creation of a bond of brotherhood and comradship among all living recipients of
the Medal of Honor.
- Maintaining the memory and respect for those who had died receiving the Medal of
Honor, as well as those living recipients who had since died.
- Protection and preservation of the dignity and honor of the Medal of Honor at
all times and on all occasions.
- Protecting the name of the Medal of Honor as well as individual Medal of Honor
recipients from exploitationn.
- Providing assistance and aid to needy Medal of Honor recipients, their spouses
or widows, and their children.
- Promoting patriotism and allegiance to the Government and Constitution of the
- To serve the United States in peace or war.
- To promote and perpetuate the principles upon which our nation is founded.
- To foster patriotism and inspire and stimulate our youth to become worthy
citizens of our country.
The Korean War (1950-53) had done little to
increase the number of living Medal recipients, of 131 Medal of Honor actions only 37 men
survived to join the exclusive CMOH Society. Meanwhile (in 1953) the last hero of
the Indian Campaigns died followed by many of the other older heroes of wars
past. By the time Roger Donlon earned the first Medal of Honor of the Vietnam War in
1964 the numbers in the Society had dropped to less than 270 living heroes. The
Vietnam war pushed the numbers back over the 300 mark and brought with it some new
challenges for the Society.
Imagine first of all what it must be like to take a
boy fresh out of high school, put him in uniform and send him off to war to witness
unspeakable violence and death in one moment, then clean him up and make him the honored
guest at the White House where the President himself presents him our Nation's highest
honor. Compound the "culture shock" by returning that young hero to a
society that really didn't appreciate his actions and even opposed the war he had served
in, and you've got the makings for some serious problems. Thus the Vietnam War
presented the older members of the Society with a new mission...mentoring, counseling and
becoming "big brothers" to a new group of heroes. It was a needed service
for the young heroes and generated a futher bond among the men of this select group.
As they became more and more personally involved in the lives of each other they
began to meet each year for special reunions. It was during these reunions they
began to also recognize their own heroes, presenting their newly created (1968) National
Patriots Award to the likes of Bob Hope, Jimmy Stewart, and others.
Today the number of living Medal of Honor
recipients is at its lowest point in history... only 159 living recipients as of February
15, 1999. Of these few remaining heroes, 104 are over the age of 65. Thus has
passed to the Medal of Honor Society a new challenge, struggling to maintain a heritage
that is quickly vanishing. Members of the Society now meet for an ANNUAL reunion and
attempt as well to have smaller get togethers from time to time. While each of these
men is quick to point out that, since the Medal can only be received for WAR-TIME heroism,
they hope that there will be no new members of the Society; we as Americans are rapidly
loosing some of our greatest heroes and role models. Thanks to the Medal of Honor
Society however, their memory will never be lost to future generations.