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  • Writer's pictureRich Honiball

Today in Brand History: Medal of Honor

(Personal note, out of tremendous respect, I am not attempting to equate the Medal of Honor to a "brand" the way most think of a brand. Rather, an identifiable name and mark that immediately signifies importance, and in this case, honor)

On March 25, 1863, the first US Army Medal of Honor was awarded to six army soldiers, including Army Pvt. Jacob Parrott, by US Secretary of War Edwin Stanton in Washington. The medal was established to recognize and honor soldiers who had distinguished themselves in battle or other acts of heroism. Private Parrott volunteered to go deep into Confederate territory to destroy bridges and train tracks to slow down the enemy advance. After significant success, he was taken prisoner, but eventually returned to the Union in March, 1863 as part of a prisoner exchange.

The idea for the Medal of Honor can be traced back to the Civil War, when many felt it was of growing importance to to recognize acts of bravery and valor. In 1861, Iowa Senator James W. Grimes introduced a bill in Congress to create a Medal of Honor for enlisted soldiers, but the bill failed to pass. It wasn't until two years later that a similar bill was introduced and passed by Congress, leading to the establishment of the Medal of Honor.

Interestingly, the Medal of Honor was originally designed as a Navy medal. The medal featured a five-pointed star with an eagle in the center, surrounded by a laurel wreath and the words "United States of America" on the front. The back of the medal read "Personal Valor." However, it was the Army that first began issuing the medal to soldiers.

Over the years, the Medal of Honor has undergone several changes, including changes to the design and the criteria for awarding the medal. In 1917, the Navy Medal of Honor was redesigned to feature a blue ribbon and a five-pointed star with a wreath around it, while the Army Medal of Honor retained its original design. A design for the Air Force was adopted in 1947. In 1963, Congress authorized the President to award the Medal of Honor to civilians who demonstrated valor in service to the nation.

The Medal of Honor is the highest military decoration that can be awarded to a member of the United States armed forces. Since its establishment, nearly 3,500 Medals of Honor have been awarded to members of the Army, Navy, Air Force, Marine Corps, and Coast Guard. Recipients of the Medal of Honor include individuals who have demonstrated bravery in combat, as well as those who have risked their lives to save others in non-combat situations. A United States civilian can, "through a singular act of extraordinary heroism or through a prolonged series of selfless acts, clearly demonstrated a willingness to place his or her own life at risk for others or has dedicated themselves to the service of others" can be nominated for a Medal of Honor. To date, eight civilians have received the Medal of Honor including Dr. Mary Edwards Walker, the first American female surgeon, who served in the military for the Union in the Civil War, but treated soldiers from both sides of the conflict while being held as a prisoner of war. Dr. Walker is also the only woman to ever receive the Medal of Honor and at a time when women could not be commissioned in the military.

The Medal of Honor is unique among military decorations in that it is awarded "in the name of Congress." This is because the Medal of Honor was established by an act of Congress, and it is the only military decoration that requires the signature of the President in addition to that of the Secretary of Defense. It can also be revoked if the recipient's actions are later found to be dishonorable. This has only happened a handful of times in the history of the Medal of Honor. Nineteen individuals have be awarded two Medal of Honors, the first being Thomas Custer, for two distinct and separate acts of valor. During the Civil War, Custer was just 16 and lied about his age to enlist in the Union infantry before commissioning as a cavalry officer. On April 3, 1865, Custer led a charge over an enemy barricade near Namozine Church in Virginia capturing the Confederate flag out of the hands of its bearer, while securing the capture of 14 prisoners. Three days later, Custer was at the Battle of Sailor's Creek in Virginia when he captured two more flags while being wounded in the face, but he managed to shoot and kill the enemy soldier to take the flag. Custer received a Medal of Honor for each of those actions.

The youngest to be awarded the Medal of Honor, Jacklyn “Jack” Lucas who forged his mother's signature and enlisted in the Marine Corps at age 14. When the Marine Corps realized its mistake a year later, Lucas transferred to Hawaii to drive a truck. Not willing to sit out the war, he stowed away aboard the USS Deuel, a transport ship bound for Iwo Jima, landing just after his 17th birthday. During the attack, PFC Lucas and three other men were ambushed by a enemy patrol which attacked with rifle fire and grenades. Quick to act so save the lives of his group, PFC Lucas threw himself over one grenade and pulled the other one under him, absorbing the whole blasting force of the explosions in his own body. Miraculously, he survived. At the time of his heroism, he had already been in the Marine Corps for three years. Today, the Medal of Honor continues to be awarded to members of the armed forces who have demonstrated extraordinary bravery and valor in service to their country. The recipients of the Medal of Honor represent the best and bravest of the United States military, and their actions serve as an inspiration to future generations of service members. As a personal footnote, I've met many "celebrities" throughout my career, but several years ago I had the privilege of attending a dinner at Yokosuka Naval Base in Japan, honoring two Medal of Honor recipients, General James E. Livingston who liberated a Vietnamese village and saved stranded Marines and Major Roger Hugh C. Donlon, the first Medal of Honor recipient in the Vietnam War and the first from the Army Special Forces. Nothing can compare to hearing their stories, from their perspectives more about those they served with and less about their personal accomplishments. Truly inspiring.



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