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Congressional Medal of Honor (CMOH): now a (mostly) posthumous award... Audie Murphy's gallantry happens even today!

Updated on February 24, 2012


Here is a shocking statistic that you may not know... Since the end of Vietnam War in 1975, only 12 Congressional Medals of Honor had been issued, and only THREE was issued to a living recipient. That is out of 47000 wounded and dead of the War on Terror and Iraq. The ratio is 12/47000, or 0.02%. Awards issued posthumously was 75% (9 out of 12).

In the Vietnam War, the casualty figure was 211000 (wounded and dead), with 246 CMOH issued, or 0.11%. Only 154 of them was issued posthumously (63%).

In the Korean War, the casualty figure was 128000 (wounded and dead, + another 4500 missing), with 135 CMOH issued (133 issued originally, 2 awarded retroactively), or 0.10%. Out of 135, 95 was posthumous (70%)

Statistics indicates that it had gotten MUCH MUCH harder to earn Congressional Medal of Honor after Vietnam. And you practically have to die to get one. What has changed?

A little history

Congressional Medal of Honor, commonly abbreviated CMOH, was created during the American Civil War by the US Congress and signed into law by President Abraham Lincoln on 12-JUL-1862. However, no other award was authorized at that time. This lead to this medal being awarded for what would be today considered minor accomplishments. Over 1500 were awarded during the American Civil War.

The CMOH was issued for peacetime bravery before World War I, often for rescuing people in extreme distress. US Navy at one time issued two versions of CMOH, one for combat and other for non-combat.

Several medals were created in World War I, such as Distinguished Services Cross and its equivalents, and the Bronze star and other medals, so the CMOH was not awarded as often since.

Since beginning of World War II, the CMOH was restricted to combat related instances, though it can be argued that the USS Liberty incident is not exactly combat. CMOH is only awarded for extraordinary acts of heroism in combat with the enemy. The Army regulation (600-9-22 as of December 2006) regarding the CMOH says:

"The deed performed must have been one of personal bravery or self-sacrifice so conspicuous as to clearly distinguish the individual above his 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."

Audie Murphy, CMOH winner
Audie Murphy, CMOH winner | Source
Gregory D. Williams, Jr., DSC winner
Gregory D. Williams, Jr., DSC winner | Source

The Standards Had Gotten Higher

Let us take a story of one of the most famous CMOH recipients of World War II... Audie Murphy.

In France, his unit mostly decimated but ordered to hold a small town against German advance, Murphy ordered most of his men back, then single-handedly held the Germans by manning a machine gun from a wrecked (still burning) tank destroyer, and calling down artillery upon the Germans. He repeated this for over an hour. When the communications line was cut, Murphy fell back, but quickly ordered a counterattack, while wounded, which finally forced the Germans to withdraw. 

What would his modern day equivalent be? How about Sergeant Gregory D. Williams Jr, October 2006, in Baghdad, Iraq? While patrolling the Hurriyah neighborhood of Baghdad, Iraq, his Stryker group was ambushed by IEDs, RPGs, and whithering small arms fire. He was temporarily deafened (busted eardrums), burned, shocked, but he quickly recovered and and started engaging the insurgents, emptying four magazines from his M-4 carbine, then realizing his platoon leader was still trapped inside his disabled Stryker, went in and retrieved him under fire. He then found one of the mounted machine guns still usable on the Stryker and started engaging the insurgents with the heavy machine gun, firing over 300 rounds, suppressing them long enough for the rest of the platoon to reorganize and move the wounded. He only relinquished his position when reinforcements arrived, prompting the insurgents to disengage. 

Are the stories comparable? Absolutely. Yet Mr. Williams only got the distinguished service cross for his heroism, one grade lower than CMOH. 

Sgt. Giunta receiving CMOH from President Obama in late 2010
Sgt. Giunta receiving CMOH from President Obama in late 2010 | Source
Sergeant Leroy Petry receiving CMOH from President Obama in July 2011
Sergeant Leroy Petry receiving CMOH from President Obama in July 2011 | Source
Marine Corporal Dakota Meyer receiving CMOH from President Obama in September 2011
Marine Corporal Dakota Meyer receiving CMOH from President Obama in September 2011 | Source

Every War Needs Heroes

The current "Global War On Terror" have turned Congressional Medal of Honor into a "dead heroes" medal (which didn't change until 2010), and even then there is an attempt to issue as few of them as possible. Perhaps the war on terror have no major engagements, no standing armies engaging each other across battlefields, but that does not mean that the criteria should be so tight as to make the medal virtually impossible to obtain while alive.

The tighter criteria for the medal is an insult to the modern generation of our warriors, as if saying that their bravery is not equal to that of their fathers or grandfathers.

While it is important that our highest medal of valor is not handed out willy-nilly, thus devalue the significance of the medal, the Pentagon have gone too far the other way... that survivors are somehow less worthy of honor than their dead comrades.

Fortunately, the award of CMOH to Sgt. Salvatore Giunta in 2010 may signal a change in the attitude of the Pentagon. And indeed, two other CMOH was awarded to living recipients by President Obama in 2011. Sergeant First Class Leroy Petry was awarded CMOH in July 2011 for a firefight in Afghanistan in 2008 where he picked up a live grenade to save his team. On September 15, 2011, President Obama awarded CMOH to Marine Corporal Dakota Meyer for single-handedly rescuing over two dozen friendlies, recovering 4 dead and 12 wounded, against enemies in Afghanistan in a 2009 firefight.

Every generation needs their heroes. Don't deny this generation of their heroes. This administration have caught up with the living recipients, but the overall numbers is still far short. There must be more heroes out there, so let us honor them.


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    • old albion profile image

      Graham Lee 5 years ago from Lancashire. England.

      Thank you for a well researched and interesting hub. Following.


    • kschang profile image

      kschang 5 years ago from San Francisco, CA, USA

      Thanks for the correction, but it was officially awarded by the Congress, and the term Congressional Medal of Honor (CMOH) is still in wide use, such as

    • profile image

      Conway Eastwood 5 years ago

      It's just Medal of Honor, not Congressional Medal of Honor. Also, you don't win the medal, you are awarded it. It's not a contest.