The Congressional Medal of Honor Society of the United States of America is perhaps the "most exclusive organization" in our country...it is certainly one of the most unique. Its small membership includes men of all races, social classes and economic levels. They range in stature from 5'2" to 6'7", in age from 27 to 96, and they live in all areas of our Country. No amount of money, power or influence can buy one's rite of passage to this exclusive circle, and unlike almost any other organization, this group's members hope that there will be no more inductees. Beyond this attitude towards recruitment, about all they have in common is a passionate love for the United States of America and the distinct honor of wearing our Nation's highest award for military valor, the Medal of Honor.
WHY A MEDAL OF HONOR SOCIETY?
Just as the Medal of Honor itself has grown and developed since 1862, so too has the society that represents the men who wear it. It is doubtful that in 1862 anyone thought that the newly created award would achieve the prominence that it did. By the end of the Civil War only 680 of the total 1523 Medals of Honor ultimately awarded for the conflict, had actually been presented. In the 35 years following the Civil War another 105 were awarded for Civil War actions as well as almost 500 for other actions including the Indian Campaigns and the Korean action of 1871. In the last decade of the century aging Civil War veterans began to seek recognition of their prior service and heroism in requesting awards of the Medal. (From 1890-1900 a total of 683 were awarded....more than were awarded during the war itself.) The Grand Army of the Republic had also designed and begun presenting awards of its own (some of which looked very similar in design) to military veterans, and confusion arose as to who was truly a Medal of Honor recipient. Added to that were the imposters...sorry individuals who passed themselves off as war heroes to feed their own egos. Thus it was that on August 14, 1890 the Medal of Honor Legion was formed by the true recipients themselves in order to protect the integrity of the Medal. A large purpose of this early forerunner of today's Medal of Honor Society was legislative...lobbying for necessary changes to protect the integrity of the Medal of Honor.
The efforts of the Medal of Honor Legion led to many changes including the review of 1917 and establishment of the Pyramid of Honor providing awards other than the Medal of Honor for distinguished actions that did not merit the Medal of Honor. Accordingly, on April 27, 1916 the United States Congress directed that a Medal of Honor Roll be established listing the names of any veteran over age 65 who had served in any war and received the Medal of Honor. This was to be maintained by the War Department for the Army and by the Navy Department for sailors and Marines, primarily for the express purpose of validating war veterans' applications for the special $10 per month pension paid to Medal of Honor recipients over age 65.
By 1940 the number of living Medal of Honor recipients had dropped to 279, most of them older veterans. The last Civil War recipient had died just two years earlier. World War II focused new attention upon Medal of Honor heroes, many of them coming home to active roles as "celebrities" promoting war bond drives. The impact of World War II on the Medal of Honor was perhaps as dramatic as the changes of 1917:
1) Propelling the Medal to increased prominence and recognition in American Society,
2) Providing the Nation with a group of new young war heroes. Though more than half the men who received Medals of Honor during World War II died in their moment of valor, 198 living heroes were added to the Medal of Honor Roll.
This new prestige attached to the Medal along with the fresh group of war heroes, many of whom were the subject of books and movies, led to the creation in 1946 of the Medal of Honor Society. Less political than its predecessor, the organization became more concerned with perpetuating the ideals embodied in the Medal...promoting patriotism and fostering a love of Country in the aftermath of World War II.
On August 14, 1958 President Dwight Eisenhower signed legislation sent to him by Congress chartering the Congressional Medal of honor Society. The purposes of the organization were clearly spelled out in its charter (which can be found in Title 36 U.S.C., Chapter 33). They included:
Creation of a bond of brotherhood and comradeship among all living recipients of the Medal of Honor.
Maintaining the memory and respect for those who had died receiving the Medal of Honor, as well as those living recipients who had since died.
Protection and preservation of the dignity and honor of the Medal of Honor at all times and on all occasions.
Protecting the name of the Medal of Honor as well as individual Medal of Honor recipients from exploitation.
Providing assistance and aid to needy Medal of Honor recipients, their spouses or widows, and their children.
Promoting patriotism and allegiance to the Government and Constitution of the United States.
To serve the United States in peace or war.
To promote and perpetuate the principles upon which our nation is founded.
To foster patriotism and inspire and stimulate our youth to become worthy citizens of our country.
The Korean War (1950-53) had done little to increase the number of living Medal recipients, of 145 Medal of Honor actions only 38 men survived to join the exclusive CMOH Society. Meanwhile (in 1953) the last hero of the Indian Campaigns died followed by many of the other older heroes of wars past. By the time Roger Donlon earned the first Medal of Honor of the Vietnam War in 1964 the numbers in the Society had dropped to less than 270 living heroes. The Vietnam War pushed the numbers back over the 300 mark and brought with it some new challenges for the Society.
Imagine first of all what it must be like to take a boy fresh out of high school, put him in uniform and send him off to war to witness unspeakable violence and death in one moment, then clean him up and make him the honored guest at the White House where the President himself presents him our Nation's highest honor. Compound the "culture shock" by returning that young hero to a society that really didn't appreciate his actions and even opposed the war he had served in, and you've got the makings for some serious problems. Thus the Vietnam War presented the older members of the Society with a new mission...mentoring, counseling and becoming "big brothers" to a new group of heroes. It was a needed service for the young heroes and generated a further bond among the men of this select group. As they became more and more personally involved in the lives of each other they began to meet each year for special reunions. It was during these reunions they began to also recognize their own heroes, presenting their newly created (1968) National Patriots Award to the likes of Bob Hope, Jimmy Stewart, and others.
Today the number of living Medal of Honor recipients is at its lowest point in history... only 77 living recipients as of September 21, 2016. Thus has passed to the Medal of Honor Society a new challenge, struggling to maintain a heritage that is quickly vanishing. Members of the Society now meet for an annual reunion and attempt as well to have smaller get-togethers from time to time. While each of these men is quick to point out that, since the Medal can only be received for war-time heroism, they hope that there will be no new members of the Society; we as Americans are rapidly losing some of our greatest heroes and role models. Thanks to the Medal of Honor Society however, their memory will never be lost to future generations.
A big thanks to Doug Sterner and his HomeofHeroes website for providing most of the content of this page.