Magazine article Army

Understanding America's Most Revered Honor

Magazine article Army

Understanding America's Most Revered Honor

Article excerpt

Understanding America's Most Revered Honor The Medal of Honor: The Evolution of America's Highest Military Decoration. Dwight S. Mears. University Press of Kansas. 328 pages. $34.95

The Medal of Honor is America's highest military decoration for valor. It has a legendary and almost mystical quality among members of the armed forces, who know that its price is all too often the highest that can be paid. The general perception of the Medal of Honor is that it is presented for heroic acts above and beyond what could be expected- i.e., "beyond the call of duty"-and many assume it has always been that way.

To the contrary, as Dwight S. Mears shows in The Medal of Honor: The Evolution of America's Highest Military Decoration, the Medal of Honor in its current form is different from its historical antecedent of the Civil War. The validation processes for the medal have varied greatly over the past 150-plus years; during one period, there were even three versions with different criteria, including separate combat and noncombat versions for the Navy.

At times there have been conflicting legislation and policies governing the presentation of the decoration, and there are many examples of acts performed by Americans that deserved recognition but sadly were overlooked due to prejudices and prevalent beliefs. Mears' exhaustive research into the medal, to my knowledge the first complete and inclusive look into its history, clearly and concisely shows how the medal has changed and evolved beyond its original inception and how it did not achieve relative standardization until the Vietnam War. …

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