|(CNN Pool Photo)|
The official Congressional Medal of Honor website is here - and it presents the honorable history of those who have placed themselves directly and intentionally in danger to save the lives of others, dating back to the first one awarded.
A brief synopsis of its origins, as stated on the site: 'On December 9, 1861 Iowa Senator James W. Grimes introduced S. No. 82 in the United States Senate, a bill designed to "promote the efficiency of the Navy" by authorizing the production and distribution of "medals of honor". On December 21st the bill was passed, authorizing 200 such medals be produced "which shall be bestowed upon such petty officers, seamen, landsmen and marines as shall distinguish themselves by their gallantry in action and other seamanlike qualities during the present war (Civil War)." President Lincoln signed the bill and the (Navy) Medal of Honor was born.
Two months later on February 17, 1862 Massachusetts Senator Henry Wilson introduced a similar bill, this one to authorize "the President to distribute medals to privates in the Army of the United States who shall distinguish themselves in battle." Over the following months wording changed slightly as the bill made its way through Congress. When President Abraham Lincoln signed S.J.R. No. 82 on July 12, 1862, the Army Medal of Honor was born.
There are actually three versions of the medal: the original design, as received by the Navy, Marines and Coast Guard; a second design adopted by the Army; and a third variation, adopted by the Air Force in 1965.
The first Medal of Honor recipient was U.S. Army Assistant Surgeon Irwin Bernard, for rescuing 60 soldiers held at Apache Pass by the Apache Chief Cochise, in 1861. The first sailor awarded the Medal of Honor (and the third recipient overall) was John Williams - A Union Navy ship captain during the Civil War, for remaining at his firing post, despite being wounded, and refusing to leave his men during a battle at Mathias Point. (There were actually three John Williams who received the medal during the Civil War, just as a random aside, and the last soldier to be killed during the Civil War was also named John Williams.)
Whether or not you agree with the political, religious or social aims of any armed conflict, it is truly worth remembering that there are those who are there, historically mandated and presently as volunteers, who willingly commit to protect and save those to their left and their right without heed to their own safety. That is heroism.