The Medal of Honor is the United States of America’s highest military honor, awarded for personal acts of valor above and beyond the call of duty. The medal is awarded by the President of the United States in the name of the U.S. Congress to U.S. military personnel. There are three versions of the medal, one for the Army, one for the Navy, and one for the Air Force. Personnel of the Marine Corps and Coast Guard receive the Navy version.
The Medal of Honor was created in 1861, early in the American Civil War, to give recognition to men who distinguished themselves “conspicuously by gallantry and intrepidity” in combat with an enemy of the United States. There have been 3,469 Medals of Honor awarded to the nation’s soldiers, sailors, airmen, Marines, and coast guardsmen since the decoration’s creation, with just less than half of them awarded for actions during the four years of the Civil War.
The earliest dated action for a Medal of Honor recipient, took place on February 13, 1861, when Bernard John Dowling Irwin successfully set out on a rescue mission with 14 men of the 1st Dragoons in response to the siege of Second Lieutenant George Nicholas Bascom and his 60 men. While the Medal of Honor did not exist during this event (the medal was not established until 1862), the actions of Irwin were remembered and he was awarded the Medal of Honor just prior to his retirement on January 21, 1894.
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Sources: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Medal_of_Honor http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Bernard_J._D._Irwin