On July 12, 1862, President Abraham Lincoln signed into law the legislation creating the U.S. Army’s Medal of Honor to 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." Army officers were made eligible for the Medal of Honor in 1863.
Today, we reflect and recognize the courage and sacrifices of the recipients of the nation’s highest military award for valor, to include eight U.S. Army Chaplain Corps recipients.
Army Chaplain Corps Medal of Honor recipients, in reverse chronological order:
Chaplain (Capt.) Charles Liteky, Vietnam War
- Organization: 199th Light Infantry Brigade
- Action: Near Phuoc-Lac, Bien Hoa province, Vietnam, Dec. 6, 1967
- Date of issue: Nov. 19, 1968
- Born: Feb. 14, 1931, in Washington, D.C. Died: Jan. 20, 2017
On the morning of Dec. 6, 1967, Chaplain Charles Liteky was in Vietnam, near Phuoc-Lac, with the 4th Battalion, 12th Infantry Regiment, when his company came under intense fire from a battalion-sized enemy force. Chaplain Liteky moved to within fifteen meters of an enemy machine gun position to reach two wounded men, and placed himself between the enemy and the wounded Soldiers. He then dragged them to the relative safety of a landing zone for evacuation.
Throughout the fight, Liteky moved through enemy fire to administer last rites to the dying and evacuate the wounded. Noticing another trapped and seriously wounded man, Liteky crawled to his aid. Realizing that the wounded Soldier was too heavy to carry, he rolled on his back, placed the man on his chest, and, through sheer determination and fortitude, crawled back to the landing zone using his elbows and heels to push himself along. On several occasions when the landing zone was under small arms and rocket fire, Liteky stood up and personally directed medevac helicopters. During the day-long engagement, and despite painful wounds in the neck and foot, Chaplain Liteky carried 23 wounded Soldiers to the landing zone for evacuation.
Chaplain (Maj.) Charles J. Watters, Vietnam
- Organization: Company A, 173rd Support Battalion
- Action: Near Dak To Province, Republic of Vietnam, Nov. 19, 1967
- Date of issue: Nov. 4, 1969
- Born: Jan. 17, 1927, in Jersey City, N.J. Killed in action: Nov. 19, 1967
On Nov. 19, 1967, Chaplain Watters was serving with Company A, 173rd Support Battalion, 173rd Airborne Brigade, during an assault on Hill 875 near Dak To, Kontum Province, Republic of Vietnam. An intense firefight broke out with an enemy battalion. Without thinking of his own safety, Watters began to rush out on the battlefield to help collect the dying and wounded and bring them to safety. Completely exposed, Chaplain Watters administered the Sacrament of Last Rites to his dying men. Every time his unit began to charge the front line, Watters was ahead picking up the wounded and administering the sacraments to those who had fallen. He also helped carry others to safety, including a paratrooper who was in shock and unable to move from his exposed position.
After hours of intense fighting and with the perimeter of the battlefield in a state of constant confusion, Chaplain Watters continued to maintain his composure in a time of severe crisis. For hours after the initial fighting, he kept venturing out between friendly and enemy lines picking up the wounded, providing the exhausted Soldiers with food and water, administering the sacraments, and helping the medics give aid to the wounded. There were even efforts to try to restrain Chaplain Watters from his heroic and courageous deeds because of his vulnerability to enemy and friendly fire. Sadly, Watters himself became a victim of the battle raging on Hill 875 and did not survive the day. He now rests in Section 2, on Chaplains Hill, in Arlington National Cemetery.
Chaplain (Capt.) Emil J. Kapaun, Korean War
- Organization: 3rd Battalion, 8th Cavalry Regiment, 1st Cavalry Division
- Action: Unsan, Korea, Nov. 1-2, 1950
- Date of issue: April 11, 2013
- Born: April 20, 1916, in Pilsen, Kan. Died in captivity: May 23, 1951
Chaplain Emil J. Kapaun, while assigned to the 3rd Battalion, 8th Cavalry Regiment, 1st Cavalry Division, distinguished himself by extraordinary heroism, patriotism, and selfless service during the Battle of Unsan, Korea, Nov. 1-2, 1950. As Chinese Communist forces encircled the battalion, Kapaun moved fearlessly from foxhole to foxhole under direct enemy fire in order to provide comfort and reassurance to the outnumbered Soldiers. He repeatedly exposed himself to enemy fire to recover wounded men, dragging them to safety. When he couldn't drag them, he dug shallow trenches to shield them from enemy fire. As Chinese forces closed in, Kapaun rejected several chances to escape, instead volunteering to stay behind and care for the wounded. He was taken as a prisoner of war by Chinese forces on Nov. 2, 1950.
Kapaun pushed aside a Chinese soldier preparing to execute Sgt. Herbert A. Miller, whose injuries prevented him from walking on his own. Kapaun carried and supported the hobbled sergeant over the more than 60 miles they marched to the POW camp. Kapaun’s continued support saved Miller’s life and inspired the other American captives around him. While at the POW camp, Father Kapaun ministered to the sick and weakened American POWs.
Once inside the dismal prison camps, Kapaun risked his life by sneaking around the camp after dark, foraging for food, caring for the sick, and encouraging his fellow Soldiers to sustain their faith and their humanity. On at least one occasion, he was brutally punished for his disobedience, being forced to sit outside in subzero weather without any garments. When the Chinese instituted a mandatory re-education program, Kapaun patiently and politely rejected every theory put forth by the instructors. Later, Kapaun openly flouted his captors by conducting a sunrise service on Easter morning, 1951.
When Kapaun began to suffer from the physical toll of his captivity, the Chinese transferred him to a filthy, unheated hospital where he died alone. As he was being carried to the hospital, he asked God's forgiveness for his captors, and made his fellow prisoners promise to keep their faith. Chaplain Kapaun died in captivity on May 23, 1951.
On Sept. 25, 2021, Kapaun was finally welcomed home with honors in Wichita, Kansas after the Defense POW/MIA Accounting Agency (DPAA) identified his previously unaccounted for remains on March 2, 2021.
Musician Calvin Titus, while serving as a Chaplain Assistant, China Relief Mission
- Organization: Company E, 14th U.S. Infantry
- Action: Peking, China, Aug. 14, 1900
- Date of issue: March 11, 1902
- Born: Sept. 22, 1879, in Vinton, Iowa. Died: May 27, 1966
Calvin Pearl Titus, one of the first Chaplain Assistants (56M) and the only one to be awarded the Medal of Honor, received it for actions during the Battle of Peking on August 14, 1900. Titus was a bugler, but he became the unit Chaplain's unofficial assistant, providing music for services. Accompanying an allied force of about 19,000 to China to suppress the Boxer Rebellion, Titus was the first Soldier to scale a 30-foot wall.
At Peking, the 14th Infantry Regiment arrived at the Tung-Pien Gate along the eastern outer wall and immediately encountered heavy fire from atop the wall and adjacent Fox Tower. Needing troops to scale the 30-foot fortification and lay down suppressive fire, the unit’s commander, Col. Aaron S. Daggett, called for volunteers. Titus immediately stepped forward, saying, “I’ll try, sir!” Using holes in the wall as hand- and foot-holds, he reached the top, followed by the rest of company E.
After this feat of heroism, the young Titus received an appointment to West Point where he received his Medal of Honor from President Theodore Roosevelt. After becoming ordained, Titus wanted to continue as a Chaplain, but his denomination was not yet recognized by the U.S. Army. He decided to change his career field to chaplain assistant in order to continue in ministry to Soldiers; the occupational specialty was officially introduced the year he was ordained in 1909.
Chaplain Milton Lorenzo Haney, Civil War
- Organization: 55th Illinois Infantry
- Action: Atlanta, Ga., July 22, 1864
- Date of issue: Nov. 3, 1896
- Born: Jan. 23, 1825, in Savannah, Ohio. Died: Jan. 20, 1922
Chaplain Milton L. Haney (55th Illinois Infantry) earned the Medal of Honor for duties performed while serving as his unit’s chaplain at the Battle of Atlanta during the Civil War on July 22, 1864. His award, however, was for acts outside the scope of a chaplain’s duties: he volunteered to serve as a rifleman in the ranks of the regiment and rendered heroic service in retaking a Federal position which had been captured by the Confederate forces. Haney’s actions this day led to his being called “The Fighting Chaplain” by the Illinois men.
Chaplain (1st Lt.) James Hill, Civil War
- Organization: Company I, 21st Iowa Infantry
- Action: At Champion Hill, Miss., May 16, 1863
- Date of issue: March 15, 1893
- Born: Dec. 6, 1822, in England. Died: Aug. 2, 1909
First Lieutenant James Hill (21st Iowa Infantry) was awarded the Medal of Honor for capturing enemy pickets at the Battle of Champion Hill on May 16, 1863. At the time, he was serving as an infantry lieutenant, but he would go on to become the regiment’s chaplain.
In the waning hours of the battle, Hill was alone, returning from a foraging mission through the dense woods. He came upon three armed Confederate pickets. In his words:
"I realized at once that I had gotten myself into a nasty position. I instantly ordered the Johnnies to 'ground arms!' They obeyed. Then slightly turning my head, I addressed an imaginary guard in the brush with a hasty order to 'halt’ and then gave the order to my prisoners: 'Single file, march' and to my imaginary guard: 'Forward March.' I hurried toward the command at good speed."
His quick thinking and ingenuity provided a peaceful solution to a deadly encounter.
Chaplain Francis B. Hall, Civil War
- Organization: 16th New York Infantry
- Action: Salem Heights, Va., May 3, 1863
- Date of issue: Feb. 16, 1897
- Born: Nov. 16, 1827, in New York. Died: Oct. 4, 1903
On the morning of May 3, 1863, the 16th New York Regiment found itself amidst the intense shot and shellfire of the Battle of Salem Church. This intense battle, part of the larger Chancellorsville Campaign, was fought in and around the Salem Church, a rural chapel outside of Fredericksburg, Virginia. For Chaplain Francis Hall, this would be his first taste of combat as he repeatedly rode his horse out onto the battlefield, voluntarily exposing himself to heavy enemy fire “during the thickest of the fight” while rescuing wounded Soldiers.
Chaplain John Milton Whitehead, Civil War
- Organization: 15th Indiana Infantry
- Action: Stone River, Tenn., Dec. 31, 1862
- Date of issue: Apr. 4, 1898
- Born: March 6, 1823, near Boston, Ind. Died: March 8, 1909
The first Army chaplain to receive the Medal of Honor was Chaplain John Milton Whitehead of the 15th Indiana Infantry for his actions during the Battle of Stones River near Mufreesboro, Tennessee, on Dec. 31, 1862. According to his Medal of Honor citation, “Chaplain Whitehead went to the front during a desperate contest and, unaided, carried to the rear several wounded and helpless Soldiers.”
For his life-saving actions on the battlefield, Whitehead became known as "The Angel of Stones River."