Medal of Honor Day

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On March 25, 1863, Edwin Stanton–the Secretary of War at the time–presented the first Medals of Honor to six members of “Andrews’ Raiders” for their voluntary participation in a Civil War raid in 1862. The legacy of this award has lived on since then, and in 1990, Congress designated March 25th as National Medal of Honor Day. As it stands, 3,515 individuals have received this award. Today, we have the opportunity to commemorate their outstanding achievements. 


Public law passed in 1963 ensured that the requirements for the Medal of Honor were standardized among all the services–as there are 3 versions awarded to the Army, the Naval Force and the Air and Space Forces. It says that to be considered, service members must have “distinguished himself [herself] conspicuously by gallantry and intrepidity at the risk of his [her] life above and beyond the call of duty.”

The Medal of Honor is the highest award within the U.S. military, and–as you can imagine–the people who receive it are extraordinary. Although each recipient is obviously exceptional, there are some who were considered “firsts” in their category. These are their stories.


William Harvey Carney was presented the Medal of Honor in 1900, which was nearly 37 years after his act of bravery during the Civil War. The timing meant that he was the 21st African-American to technically receive the Medal of Honoreven though his actions preceded those of other decorated Black soldiers. Because of this, Carney is now regarded as the first African-American to earn the Medal of Honor. Although he was born a slave, he escaped Virginia later in life through the Underground Railroad. When he reached freedom in Massachusetts, he began his career as a Union Army Sergeant.

William Harvey Carney is regarded as the first African-American to earn the Medal of Honor.

On July 18th, 1863, the 54th Massachusetts Volunteer Infantry–the unit Carney served in–attacked Fort Wagner in Charleston, South Carolina. This moment, which is depicted in the film “Glory,” was the backdrop for Carney’s heroic deed. While Confederacy troops charged, William saved the American flag and valiantly planted it on the parapet. Although he was wounded twice, Carney protected the flag during the charge and then returned it safely to Union lines. He was under enemy fire the entire time–and yet, William never let the flag out of his sight. When Carney returned to Union lines, he told other members of his unit: “Boys, I only did my duty; the old flag never touched the ground!” William Harvey Carney’s fierce determination to protect the flag is an example of outstanding loyalty to one’s country. 


Out of the nearly 4,000 individuals who have received the Medal of Honor, only one has been a woman. Dr. Mary Edwards Walker tried to join the Union Army as a surgeon during the Civil War. Unfortunately, because of her sex, the Union Army did not enlist her help as a surgeon. They tried offering her a position as a nurse, but she quickly declined. Instead, she accepted a volunteer position at military hospitals on the front line. For nearly two years, she worked without pay. In 1863, Walker finally decided to look for employment elsewhere. In Tennessee, the War Department hired her as a “Contract Acting Assistant Surgeon.”

Mary Edwards Walker is the first and only woman to receive the Medal of Honor.

In this new position, Walker devoted herself to the sick and the wounded like no other. During her work as a surgeon in the Civil War, Walker often crossed battle lines to care for soldiers and civilians. In April of 1864, Walker had just finished helping a Confederate doctor with a surgery when she was captured by Confederate troops as a spy. She was a prisoner of war for four months.

In 1865, President Andrew Johnson awarded her the Medal of Honor for her service to her country, but in 1917, her award was temporarily rescinded. Because she was never enrolled in the Union Army, she was still technically considered a civilian. Many argued that her civilian status should disqualify her from receiving the Medal of Honor. Regardless, Walker did not return her medal and instead wore it every single day until her death in 1919. In 1977, President Jimmy Carter reinstated her award.


In 1946, Private First Class Sadao S. Munemori was awarded the Medal of Honormaking him the first Japanese American recipient. During WWII he served in Italy and France, and it was his heroic actions at the Gothic Line of the Apennines Mountains in Northern Italy that qualified him for this award.

In 1946, Private First Class Sadao S. Munemori was awarded the Medal of Honormaking him the first Japanese American recipient.

In April of 1945, Munemori’s unit was tasked with infiltrating the German’s final defensive line in Seravezza, Italy. When they arrived, the 100th Infantry Battalion with which he served suffered days of constant enemy fire. On April 5th, gunfire wounded Munemori’s squad leader, and Sadao took immediate command. He charged through enemy gunfire to take out two significant machine gun nests and then sought cover in a shell crater with other men from his unit. There, an undetonated grenade hit Munemori’s helmet and rolled towards his comrades. Without hesitation, he jumped atop the grenade to protect his fellow soldiers from the blast. His sacrifice saved the lives of his two comrades. Munemori’s company went on to successfully advance through the Gothic Line, and in 1946, Munemori was posthumously awarded the Medal of Honor for his gallantry.


These are just a few of the many incredible stories that accompany the Medal of Honor. In fact, it was nearly impossible to choose which stories to write about, as each recipient is an outstanding example of bravery, loyalty and determination. Today, we honor all those who were willingly to give their lives for their country. Even more, we honor all those who did give their lives for their country. Those who have passed paid the ultimate price–and not for glory, fame or medals. They sacrificed their lives to protect the lives of others. At Charlie Mike, we support the living and honor the fallen. Today, we ask that you join us in honoring the legacy of these Medal of Honor recipients. 

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