A Day For Heroes: A Look at National Medal of Honor Day

  • Drew Poplin

Sacrifice. Honor. Bravery in the face of peril. These are the attributes that might come to mind whenever you think of the individuals graced with the prestigious Medal of Honor.

While many know of the award itself, what you may not be aware of is that there is a national holiday meant to commemorate all those servicemen (and the literally one servicewoman to date, but we’ll get to that) who have displayed the characteristics which the award exemplifies.

History of The Medal

The idea of a “medal of honor” itself was conceived of by a politician from the Midwest during the American Civil War, but not the lanky one with the big beard.

On December 9, 1861, Iowan Senator James W. Grimes went to Congress with a bill that would “promote the efficiency of the Navy” and would be given to those who “distinguished themselves by gallantry in action and other seamanlike qualities.”

President Lincoln would sign the bill merely twelve days later, and Congress would later go on to suggest awards for other branches of the military. However, it would be nearly another year and a half until the Medal of Honor would be first presented to Jacob Parrott and the other five surviving members of the Andrews’ Raiders.

As of the time of this post, there have been a total of 3,530 Medals of Honor awarded over 20 conflicts.

5 Quick Facts About The Award

  1. There isn’t just one Medal of Honor. In fact, there are three different variations of the award. The Army, Navy, and Air Force each have their own medal, while the Marines and the Coast Guard both receive the Naval version of the award.
  2. While there have been 3,530 Medals of Honor awarded, there have been only 3,511 Medal of Honor recipients.
  3. Mary E. Walker is currently the only female recipient of this honor. A Louisville native, Walker served the United States Army as a contract surgeon from 1861-1864.
  4. 202 of the 3,530 awarded Medals of Honor were awarded during times of non-combat or otherwise unknown occurrences.
  5. Currently, the conflict which saw the highest amount of Medals of Honor awarded is the American Civil War with an astounding 1,523 recipients. The second closest is the 472 from World War II, with the lowest quantity being a three-way tie between the Haitian Campaign, the Second Nicaraguan Campaign, and Operation Restore Hope.

History of The Holiday

National Medal of Honor Day takes place every year on March 25, though it wasn’t made an annual holiday until 2007.

Throughout time, there have been many communities that have commemorated the award recipients. However, it wasn’t celebrated as a national holiday until March 25, 1991.

If that day seems at all familiar, it is because that it lines up with the 128th anniversary of when the award was first presented to those six soldiers who survived the Andrews’ Raid.

Upon becoming official on Nov. 15, 1990, the law states that:

…Whereas public awareness of the importance of the Medal of Honor has declined in recent years: and Whereas the designation of National Medal of Honor Day will focus the efforts of national, State, and local organizations striving to foster public appreciation and recognition of Medal of Honor recipients.

– Public Law 101-564

In this humble author’s opinion, National Medal of Honor Day, while a day celebrated in niche circles, is a holiday that has not received nearly enough attention from the wider public. 

While it might be easy to get lost in the sheer numbers, it is imperative to remember that each of those numbers is a person.

They’re heroes, and they all have a story – each story should be shared through the generations, inspiring both young and old.

With year’s celebration quickly approaching, and over 60 of these recipients still living, I implore you to consider how you can say “Thank you” to even just one of them.

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