The Medal of Honor is the United States of America’s highest military honor, awarded for personal acts of valor above and beyond the call of duty. The medal is awarded by the President of the United States in the name of the U.S. Congress to U.S. military personnel only. There are three versions of the medal – one for the Army, one for the Navy, and one for the Air Force. The Marine Corps and Coast Guard receive the Navy version.
The Medal of Honor was created as a Navy version in 1861 named the “Medal of Valor”, and an Army version of the medal named the “Medal of Honor” was established in 1862 to give recognition to men who distinguished themselves “conspicuously by gallantry and intrepidity” in combat with an enemy of the United States. Because the medal is presented “in the name of Congress”, it is often referred to as the “Congressional Medal of Honor”. However, the official name is the “Medal of Honor”, which began with the U.S. Army’s version.
The Medal of Honor is usually presented by the president in a formal ceremony at the White House, intended to represent the gratitude of the American people, with posthumous presentations made to the primary next of kin. There have been 3,496 Medals of Honor awarded to the nation’s soldiers, sailors, airmen, Marines, and coast guardsmen since the decoration’s creation, with just less than half of them awarded for actions during the four years of the American Civil War.