Take action today. Call our experts at: phone icon1-800-522-5221


The Highest Military Honor — The Medal of Honor


For valor in combat, there is no higher military award to recognize a servicemember than the Medal of Honor, sometimes also called the Congressional Medal of Honor. It should not be confused with the Congressional Gold Medal (the oldest and highest civilian award) or the Presidential Medal of Freedom, which are different high honors bestowed by Congress and the president of the United States respectively.

History of the Award

The Medal of Honor dates back to the Civil War when Senator James W. Grimes from Iowa introduced legislation that would present the award to enlisted seamen and Marines “who distinguish themselves by gallantry in action.” The legislation was signed into law by President Abraham Lincoln on December 21, 1861.

The first Medal of Honor recipient was Private Jacob Parrott, who received it on March 25,1863 for his bravery in crossing into enemy territory to capture a Confederate train. In the Medal of Honor’s 162-year history, there have been a total of 3,536 Medals awarded to 3,517 recipients, all men except for Dr. Mary E. Walker, the only woman to date to be so recognized.

How It Is Awarded

Initially, it was stated that servicemembers who distinguish themselves “by gallantry and intrepidity at the risk of life above and beyond the call of duty” may be recommended for the Medal of Honor. According to the award’s updated criteria established in 1963, recipients will have:

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

The process to be awarded the Medal of Honor starts with a recommendation, which requires reports on what occurred and where, which must include two sworn eyewitness statements and any other evidence. The recommendation must then be approved by all levels in the military command structure, ending with the president as Commander in Chief. Legally, a recommendation must be submitted within three years of the act it would honor. To override that requirement, an act of Congress is needed.

Benefits to Honorees

All recipients of the Medal of Honor are placed on a Medal of Honor Roll and will be saluted regardless of rank. There are other special benefits, including:

  • Monthly pension and special retirement pay
  • Invitation to all Presidential Inaugurals
  • Full military honors at burial

Award Facts

The highest number of Medals of Honor was awarded for service during the Civil War (1,523 in total), followed by World War II (472). More than three-quarters of award recipients have been enlisted personnel, and 23% have been officers. Servicemembers in the Army have received the most medals (2,458), followed by the Navy (749). Currently, there are 63 living Medal of Honor recipients.

Even AAFMAA can boast a few Medal of Honor facts. Four US Army Medal of Honor recipients are also AAFMAA Members, three who are still living and one who is no longer with us. So besides getting great benefits from AAFMAA, our Members are in great company with some of their heroic peers.

You can read more about the Medal of Honor and access a complete list of recipients on the Congressional Medal of Honor Society website.

The appearance of U.S. Department of Defense (DoD) visual information does not imply or constitute DoD endorsement. Photo by Bernardo Fuller, Army. Army Spc. David Lashner, assigned to the 3rd U.S. Infantry Regiment, known as "The Old Guard," unveils the engraved name of Medal of Honor recipient, retired Army Col. Paris D. Davis, at the National Museum of the U.S. Army at Fort Belvoir, Va., Aug. 9, 2023. Davis received the Medal of Honor from President Joe Biden on March 3, 2023, for his actions while serving in the 5th Special Forces Group (Airborne) in Vietnam in 1965.