Medal of Honor: Benefits, History and Facts

Updated: August 21, 2022

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    The Medal of Honor (MOH) is the highest military medal a service member can earn. Created in the wake of the Civil War, the Medal of Honor is awarded to service members “who distinguish themselves through conspicuous gallantry and intrepidity at the risk of life above and beyond the call of duty,” according to the Department of Defense.

    Military tradition dictates that all uniformed service members salute Medal of Honor recipients, regardless of rank. Even the most senior military officer will participate in this tradition out of respect for the sacrifices the recipients made.

    Medal of Honor Recipients Lifetime Benefits

    The DOD’s Code of Federal Regulations lists the following lifetime benefits for Medal of Honor recipients:

    • Their names are added to the Medal of Honor Roll, and they will receive DD Form 1370A, Certificate of Enrollment on the Medal of Honor Roll.
    • They receive a special Medal of Honor pension of $1,489.37 (effective date: Dec. 1, 2021) per month above and beyond any other benefits, including retirement or disability pensions.
    • Enlisted recipients receive a special supplemental uniform allowance.
    • Medal of Honor recipients are eligible for free travel on DOD military aircraft as Category-III priority “Space-A” travelers. This benefit is subject to whether seats are available, hence the “Space-A” designation.
    • Qualified children of recipients are automatically appointed to any military service academy without nomination or quota regulations. Normally, applicants need a nomination to enter military academies and must go through a rigorous screening process.
    • Recipients and their eligible family members receive special military ID cards, as well as access to on-base commissary and base and post exchange privileges.
    • Recipients may receive a burial with full military honors. This includes a team of at least nine members, made up of six pallbearers and/or firing party, a chaplain (if requested), an officer in charge or non-commissioned officer in charge and a bugler.

    The official Army site lists additional lifelong benefits for Medal of Honor recipients, including:

    • They receive a 10% increase in their retired pay.
    • Medal of Honor recipients and their eligible family members can access Moral, Welfare and Recreation activities and facilities on bases. Some base facilities may also offer special parking spaces.
    • They receive preferential accommodations at on-base billeting facilities.
    • They receive invitations to presidential inauguration events and special recognition ceremonies at the state and local levels.
    • Unlike other service members or retirees, they have uniform privileges. MOH recipients can wear their uniforms any time or anywhere they choose.
    • They are eligible for interment at Arlington National Cemetery.
    • The VA will provide a special engraved headstone.

    Medical Benefits

    Medal of Honor recipients and their eligible family members may qualify for medical care coverage through Tricare whether they are active-duty or retired.

    In addition, the VA assigns veterans who are Medal of Honor recipients to priority group one (of eight). This can affect how quickly they are signed up for health benefits and also exempts them from medical care co-payments.

    Non-Military Benefits

    Some states and private companies may offer other benefits to Medal of Honor recipients. These include:

    • Some states offer special license plates and driver’s license designations. They may receive other benefits such as free motor vehicle registration. Application requirements and availability vary by state.
    • Some private companies offer special gifts, incentive programs or access for Medal of Honor recipients and others who received high military honors such as The Purple Heart. Individual programs and requirements may vary.
    • Surviving spouses and dependent children of Medal of Honor recipients may be eligible for state education benefits in some states.

    Medal of Honor Day Origins

    The U.S. observes Medal of Honor Day on March 25. According to the National Medal of Honor Heritage Center website, it commemorates the day that the first Medal of Honor recipient, Army Private Jacob Parrott, received his award in 1863, for his part in the “Great Locomotive Chase.” A group of volunteers, including Parrott, commandeered a train in Georgia and conducted raids on Confederate railroad facilities and bridges as it traveled north toward Chattanooga, according to the Congressional Medal of Honor Society.

    Medal of Honor Requirements

    According to the Congressional Medal of Honor Society, in 1963 Congress established the following criteria under which the Medal of Honor could be awarded to any service member who “distinguishes himself conspicuously by gallantry and intrepidity at the risk of his life above and beyond the call of duty”:

    • While engaged in an action against an enemy of the United States
    • While engaged in military operations involving conflict with an opposing foreign force
    • While serving with friendly forces engaged in armed conflict against an opposing armed force in which the United States is not a belligerent party.

    Medal of Honor Facts

    • You do not need to be a U.S. citizen, but you must be in the U.S. military to qualify for the Medal of Honor. However, special legislation passed after World War I allowed the Medal of Honor to be bestowed on the Unknown Soldiers of some U.S. allies, according to the Congressional Medal of Honor Society.
    • Title 18 U.S. Code § 704 (Public Law 113-296) makes it illegal to buy, sell, barter or manufacture any decorations or medals authorized by Congress for the United States Armed Forces.
    • There are three distinct versions, one for the Army; one for the Air Force; and one for the Navy, Marine Corps. and Coast Guard.
    • Those who have received it prefer to be called “recipients” and not “winners.” According to the Congressional Medal of Honor Society, “They view the Medal as something that was bestowed upon them to carry as a symbol of the sacrifices of all who have served.”
    • The award is not the “Congressional Medal of Honor.” It is simply “Medal of Honor.” The “congressional” in the Congressional Medal of Honor Society simply indicates that it was chartered by Congress.
    • The Congressional Medal of Honor Society represents Medal of Honor recipients, maintains their records and organizes reunion events, among other responsibilities.

    Medal of Honor Recipients

    More than 3,500 service members have received the Medal of Honor, but only 64 are still living, according to the Congressional Medal of Honor Society.

    • The Army has received more Medals of Honor than other branches of service, with soldiers being awarded more than 2,400.
    • The Coast Guard’s first, and as of 2022 sole, Medal of Honor belongs to Signalman 1st Class Douglas Munro, who led the rescue of an entire battalion of Marines attacked by an overwhelming Japanese force during the Battle of Guadalcanal.
    • There has only been one female Medal of Honor recipient as of 2022: Dr. Mary Walker, who volunteered for the Union Army during the Civil War because she wasn’t allowed to join as a surgeon. She received the Medal of Honor in 1865, but it was rescinded in 1917, two years before she died, because she was a civilian. President Jimmy Carter restored the honor in 1977.
    • William Carney was the first African-American recipient, Joseph Decastro was the first Hispanic or Latino recipient and Benjamin Bennett Levy was the first Jewish recipient. All three received the Medal of Honor for their actions during the Civil War. James Smith was the first Asian-Pacific recipient for his actions serving on board the U.S.S. Kansas on April 12, 1872. The first Native recipient, Co-Rux-Te-Chod-Ish (Mad Bear), received the Medal of Honor for his actions on July 8, 1869.
    • As of 2022, 19 service members have been awarded the Medal of Honor twice. Of these, five received Medals of Honor for two separate incidents on the same day, and 14 received them for events on separate days.
    • Teddy Roosevelt is the only president to be awarded the Medal of Honor. He served in the 1898 Spanish-American War as the lieutenant colonel of the First U.S. Volunteer Cavalry Regiment, more famously known as the “Rough Riders,” who helped turn the tide of the war against Cuba to America’s favor. President Bill Clinton awarded Roosevelt the Medal of Honor posthumously on Jan. 16, 2001.
    • Roosevelt’s son Theodore Roosevelt Jr. also received the Medal of Honor for his actions on D-Day, June 6, 1944. He was part of the first wave of American soldiers to storm the beaches of Normandy and repeatedly led troops inland through heavy fire.
    • Arthur MacArthur (Civil War) and General Douglas MacArthur (WWII) were the first father and son recipients of the Medal of Honor.
    • As of 2022, Douglas MacArthur was the oldest recipient. He was 61 when he earned the Medal of Honor, and 62 when he received it.
    • Seven pairs of brothers have earned the Medal of Honor, including five during the Civil War.
    • The youngest Medal of Honor recipient was William “Willie” Johnston, who earned it on his 12th birthday during the Civil War. He received it at age 13.
    • According to the Congressional Medal of Honor Society, the Civil War is the conflict with the most Medal of Honor recipients, with 1,523. As of 2022, this accounts for more than 40% of all recipients.
    • In 1917, Congress rescinded 911 Medals of Honor following an Army review. Of these, 864 were soldiers of the 27th Maine Infantry Regiment.
    • At the time, Congress also rescinded the Medal of Honor from six civilians who earned it for their actions during the Civil War. These were later restored: Dr. Mary Walker’s in 1977, and the others in 1989.

    Recent Medal-of-Honor Recipients

    • Sergeant First Class Christopher Celiz, U.S. Army (2021)
    • Master Sergeant Earl Plumlee, U.S. Army (2021)
    • Sergeant First Class Alwyn Cashe, U.S. Army (2021)
    • Colonel Ralph Puckett, Jr., U.S. Army (2021)
    • Sergeant Major Thomas P. Payne, U.S. Army (2020)
    • Master Sergeant Mathew O. Williams, U.S. Army (2019)
    • Staff Sergeant David Bellavia, U.S. Army (2019)
    • Staff Sergeant Travis Atkins, U.S. Army (2019)
    • Sergeant Major John L. Canley, U.S. Marine Corps (2018)
    • Staff Sergeant Ronald J. Shurer II, U.S. Army (2018)
    • Technical Sergeant John A. Chapman, U.S. Air Force (2018)
    • First Lieutenant Garlin Murl Conner, U.S. Army (2018)
    • Senior Chief Britt K. Slabinksi, U.S. Navy (2018)
    • Captain Gary M. Rose, U.S. Army (2017)
    • Specialist Five James C. McCloughan, U.S. Army (2017)
    • Lieutenant Colonel Charles S. Kettles, U.S. Army (2016)
    • Senior Chief Special Warfare Operator Edward C. Byers, Jr., U.S. Navy (2016)
    • Captain Florent A. Groberg, U.S. Army (2015)
    • Sergeant Henry Johnson, U.S. Army (2015)
    • Sergeant William Shemin, U.S. Army (2015)
    • First Lieutenant Alonzo H. Cushing, U.S. Army (2014)
    • Command Sergeant Major Bennie G. Adkins, U.S. Army (2015)
    • Specialist Four Donald P. Sloat, U.S. Army (2015)
    • Staff Sergeant Ryan Pitts, U.S. Army (2014)
    • Sergeant Kyle J. White, U.S. Army (2014)

    Conflicts and Interim Periods with Medal of Honor Recipients

    • U.S. Civil War 1861-1865
    • Interim Period 1866-1871
    • Indian Campaigns
    • Korean Campaign 1871
    • Interim Period 1871-1898
    • Spanish-American War 1898
    • Samoa Campaign 1898-1900
    • Philippine Insurrection 1899-1906
    • China Relief Expedition (Boxer Rebellion) 1900
    • Interim Period 1901-1911
    • Action Against Outlaws, Philippines 1911
    • Mexican Campaign (Vera Cruz) 1914
    • Haitian Campaign 1915
    • Interim Period 1915-1916
    • World War I 1917-1918
    • Second Haitian Campaign 1919
    • Interim Period 1920-1940
    • Second Nicaraguan Campaign 1926-1933
    • World War II 1941-1945
    • Korean Conflict 1950-1953
    • Somalia (Operation Restore Hope) 1992-1993
    • Vietnam War 1964-1975
    • Dominican Campaign 1965-1966
    • War on Terrorism (Afghanistan) 2001-2021
    • War on Terrorism (Iraq) 2003-2019

    Medal of Honor Docuseries

    To learn more about Medal of Honor recipients, watch the “Medal of Honor,” available on Netflix, which partnered with the Department of Defense to create this eight-part docuseries, released in 2018. The series celebrates the lives of eight post-World War II Medal of Honor recipients and includes current and former service members’ expertise behind the scenes and on camera.


    About The AuthorJoe Wallace is a 13-year veteran of the United States Air Force and a former reporter for Air Force Television News


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