America has often found it necessary to wage war.
Throughout its history, American men and women have fought and died for
their country on battlefields around the world. Thousands of these men
and women were unsung heroes and heroines in battles from Concord,
Massachusetts, to Mogadishu, Somalia. A handful of these have been
awarded the Medal of Honor for bravery in combat above and beyond the
call of duty.
Until the time of the Civil War, there was no such thing
as the Medal of Honor. (Though most people call the medal the
Congressional Medal of Honor, its proper name is simply the Medal of
Honor.) In December of 1861, the Congress of the United States decided
some special award was needed for those who displayed special bravery.
The first Medals of Honor were awarded in 1863 to recognize a band of
Union Army raiders who struck a blow at the heart of the Confederacy.
The most recent recipients were two soldiers who were killed in action
in Somalia in 1993. A total of 3,362 medals have been presented. Most of
those - 2,362 - have been awarded to Army men. Nineteen men are
so-called double recipients. That means they were awarded two medals for different actions under fire.
Those who have been awarded medals
have been as diverse as America itself. They were rich and poor; African
American, Asian American, Native American, Hispanic American, and white
American; young and old; from big cities and country villages. Some were
the sons of families that had been in America for generations. Others
were immigrants who came to America to find a better life. Even though
women have traditionally been kept out of combat, one woman, Dr. Mary
Edwards Walker, was awarded the medal for her service during the Civil
War. Members of all branches of service--Army, Navy, Marines, Air
Force, and Coast Guard - have been honored.
Some of these Medal of Honor
recipients became famous. Their names were at least for a time, as
famous as the medal itself and the wars they fought in. Other recipients
returned home after their battles ended and sank into relative
More than 550 of those who were awarded medals were killed in
combat. The bravery that made them medal recipients also cost them their
Sadly, while no sane person desires war, the nature of humankind
means that wars will continue to ravage the earth. Someday that may
change, and the Medal of Honor will be a relic of the past. For now, the
best that we can hope for is that brave men and women like these medal
recipients will continue fighting for freedom and democracy. Their
stories can stand as shining examples of the courage that free people
need when threatened with a loss of their freedom.
Adapted from Congressional Medal of Honor
Recipients, Collective Biographies by Kieran Doherty