Medal of Honor History and the VA

The Medal of Honor (MOH) for distinguished soldiers of the Army’s Regular or Volunteer forces was authorized by Congress 152 years ago on July 12, 1862, nearly seven months after the nation’s first Medals of Honor were established for the Navy.


Special awards to recognize bravery in battle began during the Revolutionary, under General George Washington, but not until the Civil War was one named the “Medal of Honor.” Congress established the nation’s first Medals of Honor during the first year of the Civil War, on December 21, 1861, for Navy petty officers, seamen, landsmen, and marines who “shall most distinguish themselves by their gallantry in action and other seamanlike qualities during the present war.” Notice the anchor on the early Navy medal shown below.

Eventually, Congress authorized Medals of Honor for all branches of the military services:
· 1862 July 12 – Medals of Honor authorized for enlisted men of the U.S. Army and Volunteer forces.
· 1915 March 3 – Medal of Honor eligibility expanded to officers and men of the Coast Guard (they receive the Navy Medal of Honor)
· 1956 August 10 – Medal of Honors were authorized for the Air Force; Air Force had been
an independent branch since 1947, but prior to 1956, recipients were given the Army’s medal.

There are currently three Medal of Honor types: Army, Navy, and Air Force.

On April 26, 1916, Congress approved special lifetime pensions for Medal of Honor recipients. At that time, the pension amount was $10 per month, paid quarterly, and they were administered by the Department of Interior’s Pension Bureau until 1930 when the Veterans Administration was established. Several months later in 1916 a board was formed to investigate and review past awards and over 900 Medal of Honor recipients (mostly Civil War era) were stricken from the list. In later years, some of those stricken were reinstated.

The media often incorrectly refers to Medal of Honor recipients as “winners.” There is no open competition or contest involved to obtain the medal; it is one of the highest honors bestowed by Congress on behalf of a grateful nation for heroic acts earned through selfless and daring actions in battle. As of July 21, 2014, there have been 3,490 Medal of Honor recipients since the award was established in 1861; 80 are living, as of today. Army Sergeant Ryan M. Pitts was the latest Medal of Honor recipient on July 21, 2014 for extraordinary acts of heroism in Afghanistan.

What are the entitlements of a Medal of Honor recipient?
· A monthly special pension of roughly $1,000 from the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA)
· A 10-percent increase in retired pay, not to exceed the 75 percent maximum, for enlisted recipients who
retire with 20 or more years of Military Service,
· A special MOH Travel and Identification Card signed by the Secretary of the Army. This entitles recipients
who are not on active duty and not military retirees to utilize space-available military air transportation.
Wearing their uniforms at any time or place they choose, unlike other military personnel or retirees.
· An issued DOD identification card, as are their family members, for recipients who are not on active duty
and military retirees. It authorizes them military commissary, Post Exchange, and theater privileges. All of
the services, consistent with DOD policy, authorize use of morale, welfare, and recreation activities,
including honorary club membership without dues.
· Children of Medal of Honor recipients are not subject to quotas if they are qualified and desire to attend
the U.S. military academies.
· Receiving invitations to attend Presidential inaugurations and accompanying festivities. Military recipients
and those who are civil servants have traditionally been authorized administrative absence instead of
chargeable leave to attend.
· A special engraved headstone for deceased recipients of the Medal of Honor provided by VA
· Should be accorded on base billeting commensurate with the prestige associated with the Medal of Honor


At least 16 VA facilities are named after Medal of Honor recipients (listed chronologically):

1. San Antonio, TX – 2nd Lt. Audie L. Murphy, Army, the most decorated soldier of WWII, authorized 12/15/1971 (see photo, left)
2. Murfreesboro, TN – Cpl. Alvin C. York, Army, WWI authorized 10/19/1984
3. Charleston, SC – PFC Ralph H. Johnson, USMC, Vietnam War authorized 10/31/1990
4. Walla Walla, WA – Gen. Jonathan M. Wainwright, Army, WWII authorized 4/26/1996
5. Salt Lake City, UT – Pharmacists Mate 2nd Class George E. Wahlen, Navy, WWII authorized 12/6/2003
6. Amarillo, TX – Lance Corporal Thomas E. Creek, USMC, Vietnam War authorized 11/30/2004
7. Sunnyside-Queens (clinic), NY – Lance Corporal Thomas P. Noonan, USMC, Vietnam War authorized 11/30/2004
8. Muskogee, OK – 1st Lt. Jack C. Montgomery, Army, WWII authorized 6/15/2006
9. Albuquerque, NM – 2nd Lt. Raymond G. Murphy, USMC, Korean War authorized 7/5/2007
10. Asheville, NC – PFC Charles George, Army, Korean War authorized 11/15/2007
11. Iron Mountain, MI – Sgt. Oscar G. Johnson, Army, WWII authorized 11/16/2007
12. Tulsa, OK (clinic) – 2nd Lt. Ernest Childers, Army, WWII authorized 12/26/2007
13. Ponce, Puerto Rico (clinic) – Capt. Euripides Rubio, Army, Vietnam War authorized 7/30/2008
14. Miami, FL – PFC Bruce W. Carter, USMC, Vietnam War authorized 8/12/2008
15. Big Spring, TX – 2nd Lt. George H. O’Brien, Jr., USMC, Korean War authorized 10/5/2011
16. Craig County, CO (telehealth clinic) – Maj. William E. Adams, Army, Vietnam War authorized 10/5/2011

A bill to designate the Waco, TX, VA Medical Center after Medal of Honor recipient, Doris “Dory” Miller, is currently under consideration by Congress.

Last of Pearl Harbor MOH recipients:


Story: VA Historian, Washington, DC

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