Today Navy SEAL Lt. Michael P. Murphy, 29, from Patchogue, NY was awarded the Medal of Honor posthumously on Monday,…
… October 22, 2007. President Bush presented the Medal to his parents. Murphy was killed by enemy forces during a reconnaissance mission, Operation Redwing, June 28, 2005. Murphy lead a four-man team tasked with finding a key Taliban leader in the mountainous terrain near Asadabad, Afghanistan, when they came under fire from a much larger enemy force with superior tactical position. Mortally wounded while exposing himself to enemy fire, Murphy knowingly left his position of cover to get a clear signal in order to communicate with his headquarters. While being shot at repeatedly, Murphy calmly provided his unit’s location and requested immediate support for his element. He returned to his cover position to continue the fight until finally succumbing to his wounds.
NAVY MEDAL OF HONOR (1862)
The Navy’s Medal of Honor was the first approved and the first designed. The initial work was done by the Philadelphia Mint at the request of Secretary of the Navy Gideon Welles. The Mint submitted several designs for consideration, and the one prepared by the Philadelphia firm of William Wilson & Sons was the design selected.
The selected Medal of Honor design consisted of an INVERTED, 5-pointed STAR. On each of the five points was a cluster of LAUREL leaves to represent victory, mixed with a cluster of OAK to represent strength. Surrounding the encircled insignia were 34 stars, equal to the number of stars in the U.S. Flag at the time in 1862….one star for each state of the Union including the 11 Confederate states. The stars are also symbolic of the “heavens and the divine goal which man has aspired to since time immemorial” according to Charles Thompson, Secretary of the Continental Congress back in 1777.
Inside the circle of 34 stars were engraved two images. To the right is the image of Minerva, the Roman goddess of wisdom and war. On her helmet is perched an owl, representing WISDOM. In keeping with the Roman tradition, her left hand holds a bundle of rods and an ax blade, symbolic of authority. The shield in her right hand is the shield of the Union of our states (similar to the shield on our seal and other important emblems.)
Recoiling from Minerva is a man clutching snakes in his hands. He represented DISCORD and the insignia came to be known as “Minerva Repulsing Discord”. Taken in the context of the Civil War soldiers and sailors struggling to overcome the discord of the states and preserve the Union, the design was as fitting as it was symbolic.
The ribbon that held the medal was originally a blue bar on top and 13 red and white stripes running vertically. The 13 represents the original 13 colonies. The color white represents purity and innocence, red represents hardiness, valor and blood, and blue signifies vigilance, perseverance and justice. The stripes also represent the rays of the sun.
For all practical intents and purposes, the Navy Medal of Honor remains the same today as it did when it was born. The only change has been in the attachment that connects it to the ribbon, and the ribbon itself. Originally the Navy Medal of Honor was suspended from its red, white and blue ribbon by an anchor wrapped with a length of rope. The reverse side of the Medal was inscribed with the words “Personal Valor” above an open area in which the recipient’s name could be engraved.
ARMY MEDAL OF HONOR (1862)
Struck from the same die as the Navy Medal of Honor, the original Army Medal differed only in the emblem that attached it to the same red, white and blue ribbon as the Navy. Replacing the anchor was an eagle perched on crossed cannon and clutching a saber in its talons. Replacing the words “Personal Valor” on the back of the Medal were the words “The Congress To” with an area to engrave the recipient’s name.
ARMY MEDAL OF HONOR (1896)
The first change in the Medal of Honor occurred in 1896 and dealt ONLY with the ARMY Medal of Honor. The change resulted after Congress authorized the wearing of a rosette or ribbon in lieu of the Medal in 1895. Following this step, Congress provided for replacement ribbons to recipients whose ribbons had deteriorated with age. In an effort to distinguish the Medal of Honor from awards being produced and distributed by various veterans organizations, the new suspension ribbon was introduced.
The change in the design of the ribbon was not enough distinction for the Medal of Honor for many recipients including Civil War hero Brigadier General George Gillespie. With the full support of Secretary of War Elihu Root at the turn of the century, the idea of a redesigned Army Medal of Honor gained momentum. One of the leaders in the effort was Horace Porter who had just received the Medal of Honor (July 8, 1902) for his own heroism during the Civil War. The U.S. Ambassador to France, Porter had a new design prepared by the Paris firm of Messrs. Arthur, Bertrand, and Berenger. He shared this design with Secretary Root, then sought the approval of the officers of the Medal of Honor Legion. On April 23, 1904 Congress authorized the new design for the Army Medal of Honor.
To protect the new design from being copied as had been the earlier Medal, General Gillespie sought and obtained a patent in November, 1904. The following month he transferred the patent to Secretary of War William Taft.
Gillespie MEDAL OF HONOR (1904)
The new Army Medal kept the star but modified the face of the Medal. The words “United States of America” replaced the ring of 34 stars and “Minerva Repelling Discord” was changed to display a simple profile of the helmeted Goddess of War. The oak clusters remained in the points of the star, now in a dark enameled green. The laurel clusters were moved to a wreath where they too were enameled in green, in the shape of an open wreath. The eagle that had once perched on cannon, saber in its talons, now perched on a bar bearing the words “VALOR” and the shafts of arrows.
The ribbon likewise was changed from its red, white and blue to a single light blue color on which was embroidered thirteen stars. The reverse of the Medal continued to bear the words “The Congress To”, but these words were now printed on the back side of the “VALOR” bar, the full back of the Medal itself unadorned to provide for information on the recipient. The 13 is once again the original 13 colonies.
NAVY MEDAL OF HONOR (1913)
Since its birth the Navy’s Medal of Honor, presented also to members of the Marine Corps and Coast Guard, has not changed. In 1913 the anchor that connected it to the suspension ribbon was changed slightly when the rope was removed. At the time of that change the ribbon too changed to the same blue silk ribbon bearing 13 stars that was used with the Army Medal of Honor.
Since the Navy awarded Medals of Honor for both COMBAT and NON-COMBAT heroism, in 1919 the Department of the Navy decided to distinguish between the two acts by presenting a different Medal of Honor for each. The Original Medal would be presented for COMBAT heroism and the new MALTESE CROSS would signify NON-COMBAT heroism meriting the Medal of Honor. Designed by New York’s TIFFANY & COMPANY, it became known as the “Tiffany Cross”.
TIFFANY CROSS (1919)
The blue silk ribbon of the Maltese Cross hung below a bar bearing the old English spelling for valor, “VALOUR”. The Medal itself featured the American eagle in the center of the award and surrounded by a six sided border over the top of which was printed “UNITED STATES NAVY” AND “1917 – 1918″. An anchor protruded outward from each of the cross’s four arms and the back of the medal bore the words “Awarded To” with a place for the recipient’s personal information.
The “Tiffany Cross” was not a popular award and is the rarest of all Medals of Honor in existence. In 1942 it was dropped from the Medal of Honor profile and the Navy returned to its original Medal of Honor as the only design awarded.
Though it was not uncommon for Medals of Honor to continue to be pinned to a soldier’s tunic during World War II, the practice of draping it around a recipient’s neck became increasingly used. For this purpose the modern Medal of Honor was suspended from an 8-sided “pad” bearing 13 white stars, to which the blue silk neck ribbon was attached.
The Medal of Honor is the only United States Military Award that is worn around the neck rather than pinned to the uniform.
AIR FORCE MEDAL OF HONOR (1965)
Authorized in 1956, the Air Force unveiled its own design for the Medal of Honor in 1965. About 50% larger than the other services’ Medals of Honor, it retained the laurel wreath and oak leaves of the Army Medal which had previously been presented to members of the Army Air Service and Air Corps. It also retained the bar bearing the word “VALOR”. Inside the circle of stars the helmeted profile of Minerva from the Army’s medal is replaced by the head of the Statue of Liberty. Replacing the Army’s eagle is the Air Force Coat of Arms.
RIBBON AND ROSETTE
On May 2, 1895 Congress authorized “a rosette or knot to be worn in lieu of the medal and a ribbon to be worn with the medal.” Today’s Medal of Honor Ribbon is blue with FIVE stars, 2 at the top and 3 at the bottom. (One of the most common mistakes people make when displaying Medal of Honor graphics is to display the ribbon up-side down.)
The six-sided blue silk rosette bears 13 stars and is worn on civilian attire. Medal of Honor recipients also wear the Medal itself around the neck of civilian attire for special occasions.
When the patent on the Medal of Honor first obtained by General Gillespie expired in 1918 Congress intervened to protect the Medal’s integrity. In 1923 legislation was enacted to prohibit the unauthorized manufacture of medals awarded by the military services. Additional legislation since then has taken steps to further protect the awards presented to our military heroes, and the Medal of Honor in particular.
As long as our Nation has veterans of military service there will be “war stories” and embellished tales of battlefield heroics. Such is the nature of military men. Sadly, some have stooped to the lowest levels by claiming or displaying medals they are not authorized. Misrepresentation of ones’ self as a Medal of Honor recipient is a CRIME punishable by imprisonment.
The Medal’s History
On December 9, 1861 Iowa Senator James W. Grimes introduced S. No. 82 in the United States Senate, a bill designed to “promote the efficiency of the Navy” by authorizing the production and distribution of “medals of honor”. On December 21st the bill was passed, authorizing 200 such medals be produced “which shall be bestowed upon such petty officers, seamen, landsmen and marines as shall distinguish themselves by their gallantry in action and other seamanlike qualities during the present war (Civil War).” President Lincoln signed the bill and the (Navy) Medal of Honor was born.
Two months later on February 17, 1862 Massachusetts Senator Henry Wilson introduced a similar bill, this one to authorize “the President to distribute medals to privates in the Army of the United States who shall distinguish themselves in battle.” Over the following months wording changed slightly as the bill made its way through Congress. When President Abraham Lincoln signed S.J.R. No. 82 on July 12, 1862, the Army Medal of Honor was born. It read in part:
Resolved by the Senate and House of Representatives of the United States of America in Congress assembled, That the President of the United States be, and he is hereby, authorized to cause two thousand “medals of honor” to be prepared with suitable emblematic devices, and to direct that the same be presented, in the name of the Congress, to such non–commissioned officers and privates as shall most distinguish themselves by their gallantry in action, and other soldier-like qualities, during the present insurrection (Civil War).”
With this simple and rather obscure act Congress created a unique award that would achieve prominence in American history like few others. The table below will acquaint you with a chronological time line of key events in the history of the Medal of Honor.
3 MAR 1847: Congress authorizes a “certificate of merit” be presented by the President when a “private soldier distinguishes himself in the service”, along with additional pay of $2 per month.
13 FEB 1861: Army Assistant Surgeon Bernard J.D. Irwin rescues the 60 soldiers of 2d Lt. George Bascom’s unit at Apache Pass, AZ. Though the Medal of Honor had not yet been proposed in Congress (and actually wouldn’t even be presented to Irwin until 1894, it was the First heroic act for which the Medal of Honor would be awarded.
1876: Due to the large number of men submitted for Medals of Honor after the Battle of the Little Big Horn, a review board of officers was assembled to consider the requests. The number was pared down to 24 men, and a “new standard” was applied that “the conduct which deserves such recognition should not be the simple discharge of duty, but such acts beyond this that if omitted or refused to be done, should not justly subject the person to censure as a shortcoming or failure.”
10 NOV 1896: For the first time a change is made in the DESIGN of the Medal of Honor. The change is only in the suspension ribbon and affects only the Army’s Medal of Honor.
1 FEB 1898: The Army issues proper instruction for display of the Medal of Honor suspended from a ribbon hung around the neck of the recipient. (For the next half century Army Medals of Honor were sometimes displayed in this fashion, at other times pinned to the tunic of a soldier’s uniform.)
23 APR 1904: Congress authorizes a distinctive new design for the Army Medal of Honor, the brainchild of General George Gillespie who had received the Medal of Honor during the Civil War. The new “Gillespie Medal” retains the star shape but surrounds it with a green laurel. The Medal is suspended from a newly designed blue ribbon bearing 13 stars from a bar on which is printed the word “VALOR”. Upon authorizing the new Medal of Honor design, Congress requires Medal recipients to return their original Medals to be replaced with the new.
27 FEB 1907: Recipients of the earlier designs for the Medal of Honor have shown reluctance to return their “old” medals for the new “Gillespie” medals because of the sentimental value their original award holds for them. In response Congress authorizes them to be issued the new design without turning in their original Medals and instructs that those who had previously turned in their Medals have them returned to them. The legislation specifies, however, that both Medals (original and Gillespie) can not be worn at the same time.
17 APR 1917: The last Medals of Honor awarded for Civil War action are presented to Henry Lewis and Henry Peters, bringing to a close the controversial and divisive scramble of Civil War vets for the coveted award, and opening the way for new legislative protections.
9 JUL 1918: The Medal of Honor was born in 1862, but it was the act of 9 July 1918 that defined the future of the award, while further eliminated the Certificate of Merit while establishing the new “Pyramid of Honor” providing for lesser awards (The Distinguished Service Cross, The Distinguished Service Medal, and the Silver Star). A key difference between the levels of awards was spelled out, “That the President is authorized to present, in the name of the Congress, a medal of honor only to each person who, while an officer or enlisted man of the Army, shall hereafter, in action involving actual conflict with an enemy, distinguish himself conspicuously by gallantry and intrepidity at the risk of his life above and beyond the call of duty.” The lesser awards were authorized for presentation by the President, “BUT NOT IN THE NAME OF CONGRESS.”
The act of July 9th further established time limits to avoid problems like those encountered with Civil War veterans seeking the award. Recommendations for Medals of Honor had to be made within 2 years of the act of heroism for which it was to be awarded, and the Medal was to be presented within 3 years.
The act of July 9th was further clarified in September, then again in February 1919, to stipulate that no person could receive more than ONE Medal of Honor. Previously there had been 19 DOUBLE AWARDS of the Medal, but hereafter, while there were provisions for second and consecutive awards of lesser medals to be made and noted with appropriate ribbon devices, no more than ONE Medal of Honor could be awarded.
7 Aug 1942: The TIFFANY CROSS established for non-combat naval heroism in 1942 had proven unpopular, perhaps because it so closely resembled the German Iron Cross. It was also poorly regulated and documented. The Act of August 7th restored the earlier provisions of the Navy Medal of Honor for non-combat heroism and eliminated the Tiffany Cross and the two-medal system.
1946: The CONGRESSIONAL MEDAL OF HONOR SOCIETY is formed.
5 AUG 1950: The United States Air Force was born on July 26, 1947 when President Truman signed the National Security Act of 1947. On this date in 1950 Louis Sebille became the first flier of the now separate AIR FORCE to earn the Medal of Honor. In all, FOUR Air Force officers received Medals of Honor for action in Korea…all of them posthumous awards. (These four men, as had members of the earlier Air Service and Army Air Corps, were awarded Army Medals of Honor.
10 AUG 1956: Legislation is authorized providing members of the United States Air Force with their own, distinctive design for an Air Force Medal of Honor separate from that of the Navy and Army.
5 AUG 1958: The Medal of Honor Society is absorbed into the Congressionally Chartered CONGRESSIONAL MEDAL OF HONOR SOCIETY OF THE UNITED STATES OF AMERICA under Title 38, USC.
25 JUL 1963: Congress amended Titles 10 and 14 of the US Code establishing criteria and guidelines for award of the Medal of Honor:
…It would be awarded for action against an enemy of the United States,
…while engaged in military operations involving conflict with an opposing foreign force, or
…while serving with friendly forces (such as was the case with the UN forces in Korea) in an armed conflict against an opposing armed force in which the United States is not a belligerent party.
1965: The AIR FORCE introduces the design for their distinctive Air Force Medal of Honor, similar in design to that of the Army Medal of Honor only larger and displaying the head of the Statue of Liberty and other design changes. Each branch of service, Army, Navy/Marines/Coast Guard, and Air Force now has its own medal design. All three branches display the Medal suspended below a neck ribbon.
13 JAN 1997: As had been the case for Black American soldiers during World War I, racial prejudice had prevented the award of the Medal of Honor to any Black soldiers during World War II. After a comprehensive review of military awards to that war’s Black heroes, President Clinton presented Medals of Honor to the families of 6 deceased Black World War II heroes and one living hero, Vernon Baker.
31 May 2007: MUSEUM RE-OPENED AFTER EXTENSIVE RENOVATIONS. After being closed since August 21st, 2006, the CMOHS Museum re-opened to the public during Memorial Day Weekend 2007.
Thank You to Doug Sterner and his HomeofHeroes website for providing most of the content of this page. For more detailed information please visit http://www.cmohs.org/