Medal's history

DESCRIPTION: A gold, five-pointed star, each point tipped with trefoils, 1A,A1/2 inches wide, surrounded by a green laurel wreath and suspended from a gold bar inscribed "Valor," surmounted by an eagle. In the center of the star, Minerva's head is surrounded by the words "United States of America." On each ray of the star is a green oak leaf. On the reverse is a bar engraved "The Congress to" with a space for engraving the name of the recipient.

RIBBON: The medal is suspended by a blue neck ribbon (Bluebird 67117), 1 3/8 inches wide. A shield of the same color ribbon with 13 white stars (White 67101), arranged in the form of three chevrons is above the medal. The service ribbon is 1 3/8 inches wide with five white stars on the form of an "M."

CRITERIA: The Medal of Honor is awarded by the president, in the name of Congress, to a person who, while a member of the Army, distinguishes himself or herself conspicuously by gallantry and intrepidity at the risk of his or her life above and beyond the call of duty, while engaged in 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 foreign forces engaged in an armed conflict against an opposing armed force in which the U.S. is not a belligerent party. The deed performed must have been one of personal bravery or self-sacrifice so conspicuous as to clearly distinguish the individual above his or her comrades, and must have involved risk of life. Incontestable proof of the performance of the service will be exacted, and each recommendation for the award of this decoration will be considered on the standard of extraordinary merit.

BACKGROUND: Gen. George Washington had the Badge of Military Merit, created Aug. 7, 1792, but it had fallen into disuse after the Revolutionary War. Decorations, as such, were still too closely related to European royalty to be of concern to the American people. However, the fierce fighting and deeds of valor during the Civil War brought into focus the realization that such valor must be recognized. Legislation was introduced in the Senate, Feb. 17, 1862, which authorized the medal for the Army, and followed the pattern of a similar award approved for naval personnel in December 1861. The resolution provided 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 Congress, to such noncommissioned officers and privates as shall most distinguish themselves by their gallantry in action, and other soldier-like qualities during the present insurrection, and the sum of ten thousand dollars be, and the same is hereby appropriated out of any money in the Treasury not otherwise appropriated, for the purpose of carrying this resolution into effect."


The original design for the Army was created by Christian Schussel and engraved by Anthony C. Pacquot. The pendant was identical to the design approved by the Navy, with the exception of the suspension and clasp. It consisted of a five-pointed star, tipped with trefoils containing a crown of laurel and oak. In the middle, a band of 34 stars represented the number of states in 1862. Minerva, personifying the United States, stood with left hand resting on fasces (set of rods bound in the form of a bundle which included an axe), and right hand holding a shield blazoned with the U.S. arms. She repulses "discord," represented by snakes. The pendant was suspended by a trophy of crossed cannons, balls, sword and an American eagle. The clasp was two cornucopias and the arms of the U.S.

The initial law was amended by an act of Congress, March 3, 1863, to extend its provisions to include officers.


In 1896, misuse of the medal led to a change in the design of the ribbon, because the original had been imitated by non-military organizations. A joint resolution of Congress, 54th Congress, Session I, authorized this change, May 2, 1896. At that time, a bowknot (rosette) was adopted to be worn in lieu of the medal. The ribbon and bowknot established and prescribed by the president, was promulgated in War Department orders, dated Nov. 10, 1896.


On April 23, 1904, Congress authorized a new design of the medal. Maj. Gen. George L. Gillespie designed the newly adopted medal, and it is the one currently in use. The medal was worn either suspended from the neck, or pinned over the left breast in precedence to other military decorations.


The present neck ribbon was adopted in 1944. It is worn outside the shirt collar and inside the coat, hanging above all other decorations.

Special entitlements for recipients of the Medal of Honor include:

Medal of Honor awardees may have their name entered on the Medal of Honor Roll (38 USC 560). Each person whose name is placed on the honor roll is certified to the Department of Veterans Affairs as being entitled to receive the special pension of $400 per month.

Enlisted recipients are entitled to a supplemental uniform allowance.

Special entitlements to air transportation under the provisions of DOD Regulation 4515.13-R.

Identification card, commissary and exchange privileges for recipients and their eligible family members.

Children of recipients are eligible for admission to the U.S. service academies without regard to the quota requirements.

Ten percent increase in retired pay under Title 10, USC 3991, subject to the 75 percent limit on total retired pay.

Note: Information provided by the U.S. Army Institute of Heraldry.

Medal of Honor flag

DESCRIPTION: A light blue flag with gold fringe bearing 13 white stars in a configuration as on the Medal of Honor ribbon.

SYMBOLISM: The light blue color and white stars are adapted from the Medal of Honor ribbon. The flag commemorates the sacrifices and blood shed for our freedoms, and gives the emphasis to the Medal of Honor being the highest award for valor by an individual serving in the armed forces of the United States.

BACKGROUND: Public Law 107-248, Section 8143, legislated the creation of a Medal of Honor flag for presentation to each person to whom a Medal of Honor is awarded after the date of the enactment, Oct. 23, 2002. A panel of eight members of representatives from each service (Army, Navy Marine Corps, Air Force and Coast Guard), one Office of Secretary Defense staff, one historian and one representative from the Medal of Honor Society, was formed to review and evaluate all designs submitted and make a final recommendation to the principal deputy to the under secretary of defense for personnel and readiness. On Dec. 15, 2004, the design submitted by Sarah LeClerc, illustrator at The Institute of Heraldry, was approved.

Public Law 109-364, Section 555, titled "Authority for Presentation of Medal of Honor Flag to Living Medal of Honor Recipients and to Living Primary Next-of-Kin of Deceased Medal of Honor Recipients," dated Oct. 17, 2006, established authority to award the Medal of Honor flag, upon written request therefore, to the primary next of kin of deceased Medal of Honor recipients, as determined under regulations of procedures prescribed by the secretary of defense.

Note: Information provided by the U.S. Army Institute of Heraldry.

Related Links:

Medal of Honor information page

History of the Medal of Honor

Medal of Honor recommendation process

Medal of Honor recipients

Additional resources

Medal of Honor statistics