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Confusion Over Correct Name for the Medal of Honor

by Brett M. Christensen

Back in 2008, I published an article about an email hoax that falsely claimed that “Brutus”, a military K9, was awarded the “Congressional Medal of Honor” for rescuing his handler and other soldiers who were taken hostage by insurgents in Iraq. In the interests of accuracy, I added the following footnote to the article:

The email refers to the medal as the “Congressional Medal of Honor”. Although in common use, the name “Congressional Medal of Honor” is incorrect. The correct name for the medal is simply the “Medal of Honor”.

Since I first published that article, I have received several, sometimes quite irate, emails from readers who tell me that I am wrong in claiming that the “Congressional Medal of Honor” is not the correct name for the medal. In response to these emails, I have double checked my original sources of information and conducted further research just to be sure.
After conducting this further research, I remain convinced that my findings are accurate. The correct and official name for the medal is indeed the “Medal of Honor”, not the “Congressional Medal of Honor”.

The first item on the “Myths, Little Known Facts and Potpourri” page on the Congressional Medal of Honor Foundation website explains:

Myth: Our nation’s highest honor for valor in combat is the Congressional Medal of Honor.

Fact: While it is common for the Medal to be referred to as the Congressional Medal of Honor, the official name is the Medal of Honor. Perhaps the misunderstanding stems from the fact the Medal is awarded “in the name of the Congress.” Also confusing the issue is the fact that the Congress chartered the Society of living Medal of Honor recipients as the “Congressional Medal of Honor Society” in 1958.

An article about the Medal of Honor published on WordIQ.com explains further:

Although all Medals of Honor are sometimes called by the name “Congressional Medal of Honor,” standard military practice is to refer to them simply as the “Medal of Honor” (all references in the U.S. Code refer to it as such, as do the individual military services). In U.S. Code Title 18, Section 704, only the ordinance establishing penalties for misuse calls it the “Congressional Medal of Honor.” Congress authorized a “Congressional Medal of Honor Society,” while the museum is called the “National Medal of Honor Memorial.” Most Medals of Honor have been awarded by the chain of command. However, Congress has occasionally bypassed this process, passing special bills that the President subsequently signs into law, mandating an award of the Medal of Honor to a specific soldier or soldiers. This is the origin of the “Congressional Medal of Honor” term. This process has been followed to award the medal to United States unknown soldiers entombed at Arlington National Cemetery from World War II, the Korean War. It was also awarded to World War I unknown soldiers of Britain, France, Italy, and Romania. This process most recently occurred when Congress passed legislation mandating the award to Humbert R. Versace, Jon E. Swanson, and Ben L. Salmon as part of the National Defense Authorization Act for Fiscal Year 2002. This became Public Law 107-107, which was signed on December 28, 2001.

And a May 2010 article published in the New York Times Magazine, states:

THE AMERICAN MILITARY has dozens of medals that can be awarded for performance or participation in various endeavors, but only a small handful, known as “valor awards,” are given for acts of courage. The highest and most revered of these is the Medal of Honor. (It is sometimes mistakenly called the Congressional Medal of Honor, presumably because, unlike other military decorations, the Medal of Honor is awarded in the name of Congress.)

And the error has also been mentioned in many other credible publications, old and new, including Timothy B. Benford’s 2001 book Pearl Harbour Amazing Facts.

It should also be noted that on the Congressional Medal of Honor Society website the medal itself is always referred to as the “Medal of Honor” not the “Congressional Medal of Honor”. As noted in the above quotes, while the society itself is named the “Congressional Medal of Honor Society”, the medal itself is – and always has been – officially called just the “Medal of Honor”.

I am aware that the medal is commonly called the “Congressional Medal of Honor” in general conversation, and also on various websites, blogs and forums that discuss the medal. However, the fact remains that this name is not correct. To reiterate, the official name is simply the “Medal of Honor”.