March 25th marks the anniversary of the first award of the Medal of Honor. On March 25, 1863, Secretary of War Edwin Stanton presented the first Medals of Honor to six of the surviving members of Andrew's Raiders. They are the first Medals ever presented.
The Medal of Honor is the highest military decoration awarded by the United States government. It is bestowed by the President in the name of Congress on members of the United States Armed Forces who distinguish themselves through "conspicuous gallantry and intrepidity at the risk of his or her life above and beyond the call of duty while engaged in an action against an enemy of the United States."
There are three versions of the Medal of Honor: one for the Army, one for the Air Force, and one version for the Navy, Marine Corps, and Coast Guard.
The Medal of Honor is the only decoration awarded to military members that is worn around the neck. The only other military "neck order" decoration is the Commander's Degree of the Legion of Merit, but it is only authorized for award to foreign dignitaries.
The Medal of Honor was actually created soley for the Civil War, but Congress made the Medal of Honor a permanent decoration in 1863. More than 3,400 men and one woman have received the award for heroic actions in the nation's battles since that time.
The Medal of Honor confers special privileges on its recipients. By law, recipients have several benefits:
- Each Medal of Honor recipient may have his or her name entered on the Medal of Honor Roll (38 U.S.C. § 1560). Each person whose name is placed on the Medal of Honor Roll is certified to the United States Department of Veterans Affairs as being entitled to receive a monthly pension above and beyond any military pensions or other benefits for which they may be eligible. The pension is subject to cost-of-living increases; as of 2011, it is more than $1,100 a month.
- Enlisted recipients of the Medal of Honor are entitled to a supplemental uniform allowance.
- Recipients receive special entitlements to air transportation under the provisions of DOD Regulation 4515.13-R.
- Special identification cards and commissary and exchange privileges are provided for Medal of Honor recipients and their eligible dependents.
- Eligibility for interment at Arlington National Cemetery if not otherwise eligible.
- Fully qualified children of recipients are eligible for admission to the United States military academies without regard to the nomination and quota requirements.
- Recipients receive a 10 percent increase in retired pay under 10 U.S.C. § 3991.
- Those awarded the medal after October 23, 2002, receive a Medal of Honor Flag. The law also specified that all 103 living prior recipients as of that date would also receive a flag. (14 U.S.C. § 505).
- Recipients receive an invitation to all future presidential inaugurations and inaugural balls.
- As with all medals, retired personnel may wear the Medal of Honor on "appropriate" civilian clothing. Regulations also specify that recipients of the Medal of Honor are allowed to wear the uniform "at their pleasure" with standard restrictions on political, commercial, or extremist purposes; other former members of the armed forces may do so only at certain ceremonial occasions.
- Many states offer distinctive Medal of Honor vehicle license plates to recipients without additional charges or fees.
- Saluting, although not required by law or military regulation, members of the uniformed services are encouraged to render salutes to recipients of the Medal of Honor as a matter of respect and courtesy regardless of rank or status.
Of the 854 Medals of Honor that have been awarded since World War II, less than half were still alive to actually wear their medal.