By Harold Schachter
Most Americans, in fact most people reading this article, probably hadn’t known that our federal government had set aside a day to honor those men and a woman who’ve received our nation’s highest award for military valor in combat — the Medal of Honor. That day is March 25 of each year.
The Congressional legislation that created the National Medal of Honor Day is Public Law 101-564. This Tuesday, March 25, will be the 24th annual National Medal of Honor Day, so the Public Law that created it has been in effect for almost a quarter of a century.
It began as House Resolution 652 during the 101st Congress. Representative Rod Chandler, representing the 8th Congressional District in the state of Washington, sponsored the bill. His bill had 151 co-sponsors from both the House and the Senate.
Introduced on Sept. 24, 1990, the bill became law on Nov. 15, 1990. President George Herbert Walker Bush signed it into law, and the first National Medal of Honor Day was March 25, 1991.
Why March 25? March 25, 1863, was the date that the first medals of honor were awarded to six Union volunteers from Ohio. These medals were bestowed by then Secretary of War Edwin McMasters Stanton.
The Congressional legislation that legalized the creation of the Navy Medal of Honor was approved on Dec. 21, 1861, and signed into law by then President Abraham Lincoln.
The Army’s Medal of Honor was created on July 12, 1862, and the Air Force Medal of Honor was created on April 14, 1965. Coast Guard and Marine Corps recipients receive the Navy Medal of Honor.
Pvt. Jacob Wilson Parrott (July 17, 1843 to Dec. 22, 1908), then 19 years old, was the first Medal of Honor recipient. He was the youngest surviving member of “Andrew’s Raiders,” volunteers who had penetrated nearly 200 miles into Confederate territory to steal a steam locomotive, the “General,” with the mission of destroying Confederate trackage from Big Shanty, Ga., to Chattanooga, Tenn.
Since Parrott received the first Medal of Honor, about 3,490 have been awarded.
On March 18, 2014, at a White House ceremony, President Obama awarded the Medal of Honor to 24 veterans of World War II, the Korean War and the Vietnam War. It is the largest group to be awarded the medal. All of these Medal of Honor recipients were veterans of the U. S. Army and all had been awarded the Army’s Distinguished Service Cross, our nation’s second highest military award for gallantry and valor as demonstrated by the recipients’ actions in combat against an enemy.
The president was presenting an upgraded award for gallantry and valor from the Distinguished Service Cross to the Medal of Honor. The upgrade was a reflection of the denial of awarding the Medal of Honor to deserving veterans on the basis of bias because of their respective race or ethnicity, some for as long as scores of years.
Of the 24 Medal of Honor recipients, only three were still alive. While less than 18 percent of all Medal of Honor awards have been posthumous, more than 84 percent of all posthumous awards have occurred since the start of World War II.
There are presently 77 living recipients of the Medal of Honor of which only seven served in World War II, even though more than 470 medals of honor were awarded for combat action during World War II.
The oldest living Medal of Honor recipient is Robert Dale Maxwell, 93, who was born in Boise, Idaho, on Oct. 26, 1920. All recipients of the Medal of Honor prior to World War II are deceased.
As Vietnam War recipient Drew Dennis Dix has stated, “When you get ready to make that complete sacrifice, you’re not doin’ it for your country. You’re doin’ it for the one on your left and the one on your right.”
Come Tuesday, March 25, let us honor and remember those who possessed such extraordinary valor in combat and thereby earned our nation’s highest award for military valor — the Medal of Honor.
Harold Schachter is a Ramona resident.