National Medal of Honor Day Is Approaching

Have you ever heard of the “Great Locomotive Chase?” It was a Civil War military raid. It occurred on April 12, 1862 in northern Georgia.

Civilian scout James Andrews led volunteers from the Union Army on a raid. They commandeered a train called The General.

They then steered it northward toward Chattanooga, Tennessee. Along the way, they did as much damage as possible to the Western and Atlantic Railroad line. From Atlanta to Chattanooga, Rebel supply lines were disrupted.

The raiders were pursued for nearly 90 miles by Confederate forces. First on foot and then on locomotives, including The Texas. Andrews and his men had cut telegraph wires. So the Rebels were unable to send warnings ahead of The General’s path. 

Great Locomotive Chase Is Catalyst

Why the Civil War history lesson in 2022? Because in two days we will celebrate National Medal of Honor Day.

And some of the Union raiders in the Great Locomotive Chase were the first to be awarded the Medal of Honor. They were honored for their actions by Congress on March 25, 1863.

The first six recipients included William Bensinger, Robert Buffum and Elihu Mason. Plus Jacob Parrott, William Pittenger and William Reddick.  

Being a civilian, Andrews was not eligible for the award. But to some the Great Locomotive Chase is known as “Andrews’s Raid.”

Award Honors Heroism and Sacrifice

National Medal of Honor Day has been celebrated on March 25 since 1991. It was created to honor “heroism and sacrifice.” The award is also known as the Congressional Medal of Honor.

The criteria for earning a Medal of Honor involves meritorious actions above and beyond the call of duty:

  • While engaged in an action against an enemy of the United States.
  • While engaged in military operations involving conflict with an opposing foreign force.
  • While serving with friendly forces engaged in armed conflict against an opposing armed force in which the United States is not a belligerent party.

Signed Into Law in 1990

On November 15, 1990, President George H.W. Bush signed Public Law 101-564. It was passed by the 101st U.S. Congress that same month.

Here’s how the law reads, in part. “Whereas the Medal of Honor is the highest distinction that can be awarded by the president, in the name of the congress, to members of the armed forces who have distinguished themselves conspicuously by gallantry and intrepidity at the risk of their lives above and beyond the call of duty…

“Whereas public awareness of the importance of the Medal of Honor has declined in recent years; and

“Whereas the designation of National Medal of Honor Day will focus the efforts of national, State, and local organizations striving to foster public appreciation and recognition of Medal of Honor recipients.”

How You Can Get Involved

So how can we commemorate National Medal of Honor Day? Here are a few suggestions from Home of Heroes.

Fly your flag. Show your pride and patriotism on this day.

  • Remember our heroes. Send a thank-you card to a Medal of Honor recipient.
  • Check the Medal of Honor database to see if any past or present award winners live in or are from your city. If so, notify the media and inform them about National Medal of Honor Day.
  • Inform local schools about this day. That way they can educate their students about it.
  • Adopt a gravesite if there is a Medal of Honor recipient buried in a cemetery near your home.
  • Make sure your local library knows about any local Medal of Honor recipients, past or present.
  • Research Medal of Honor recipients to learn more about them. Share that information with family members and neighbors. Plus friends and co-workers.

Medal of Honor Fun Facts

Here are a few fun facts about the Medal of Honor:

It is the only U.S. military award worn from a ribbon hung around the neck.

It is the only U.S. military award presented by the president in the name of Congress. 

Only one father/son combination earned the award. They were 1st Lieutenant Arthur MacArthur (Civil War) and General Douglas MacArthur (World War II).

Dr. Mary Edwards Walker is the only woman to receive the Medal of Honor.

Theodore Roosevelt is the only president to receive the award.

The first Medal of Honor was presented by Secretary of War Edwin Stanton to 19-year-old Army Private Jacob Parrott in 1863.

The youngest person to receive the Medal of Honor was William Johnston. He earned the award during the Civil War just prior to his 12th birthday.

The youngest person to receive the Medal of Honor during the 1900s was World War II hero Jack Lucas. Five days after his 17th birthday, he threw his body over two grenades at Iwo Jima.

The oldest person to receive the Medal of Honor was General Douglas MacArthur.

In 1972, Navy SEAL Michael Thornton became the first person in more than a century to earn the Medal of Honor for saving the life of another Medal of Honor recipient, Navy Lt. Thomas Norris.

I want to encourage you to spend a few minutes thinking about how you can celebrate National Medal of Honor Day. 

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Terri Z - March 23, 2022

There were two father/son Medal of Honor recipients. The article mentioned one set; the other was Theodore Roosevelt (Spanish American War)/Theodore Roosevelt Jr. (WWII).

Jan Minshall - March 23, 2022

Thank you for this information, I had no idea the history behind the Medal of Honor.

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