When considering the design of the Medal of Honor there are two factors
one must remember:
The Medal of Honor was designed in the early days of the Civil War to represent the
valiant efforts of the Union Army, Navy and Marines, and
Over the years as the Medal has become a historic symbol of the bravest of the brave, in
respect to all who have earned it, little has been done to change its design.
ORIGINAL NAVY MEDAL OF HONOR
Medal of Honor was the first approved and the first designed. The initial work was
done by the Philadelphia Mint at the request of Secretary of the Navy Gideon Welles.
The Mint submitted several designs for consideration, and the one prepared by the
Philadelphia firm of William Wilson & Sons was the design selected.
selected Medal of Honor design consisted of an INVERTED, 5-pointed STAR. On each of
the five points was a cluster of LAUREL leaves to represent victory, mixed with a
cluster of OAK to represent strength. Surrounding the encircled insignia were 34
stars, equal to the number of stars in the U.S. Flag at the time....one star for each
state of the Union including the 11 Confederate states.
Inside the circle of 34 stars were engraved two images. To the
right is the image of Minerva, the Roman goddess of wisdom and war. On her helmet is
perched an owl, representing WISDOM. In keeping with the Roman tradition, her left
hand holds a bundle of rods and an ax blade, symbolic of authority. The shield in
her right hand is the shield of the Union of our states (similar to the shield on our seal
and other important emblems.)
Minerva is a man clutching snakes in his hands. He represented DISCORD and the
insignia came to be known as "Minerva Repulsing Discord". Taken in
the context of the Civil War soldiers and sailors struggling to overcome the discord of
the states and preserve the Union, the design was as fitting as it was symbolic.
NAVY MEDAL OF
For all practical intents and purposes, the Navy Medal of Honor remains
the same today as it did when it was born. The only change has been in the
attachment that connects it to the ribbon, and the ribbon itself. Originally the
Navy Medal of Honor was suspended from its red, white and blue ribbon by an anchor wrapped
with a length of rope. The reverse side of the Medal was inscribed
with the words
"Personal Valor" above an open area in which the recipient's name could be
MEDAL OF HONOR (1862)
Struck from the same die as the Navy Medal of Honor, the original Army
Medal differed only in the emblem that attached it to the same red, white and blue ribbon
as the Navy. Replacing the anchor was an eagle perched on crossed cannon and
clutching a saber in its talons. Replacing the words "Personal Valor" on
the back of the Medal were the words "The Congress To" with an area to engrave
the recipient's name.
MEDAL OF HONOR (1896)
The first change in the Medal of Honor occurred
in 1896 and dealt ONLY
with the ARMY Medal of Honor. The change resulted after Congress authorized the
wearing of a rosette or ribbon in lieu of the Medal in 1895. Following this step,
Congress provided for replacement ribbons to recipients whose ribbons had deteriorated
with age. In an effort to distinguish the Medal of Honor from awards being produced
and distributed by various veterans organizations, the new suspension ribbon was
The change in the design of the ribbon was not enough
distinction for the Medal of Honor for many recipients including Civil War hero Brigadier
General George Gillespie. With the full support of Secretary of War Elihu Root at
the turn of the century, the idea of a redesigned Army Medal of Honor gained momentum.
One of the leaders in the effort was Horace Porter who had just received the Medal
of Honor (July 8, 1902) for his own heroism during the Civil War. The U.S.
Ambassador to France, Porter had a new design prepared by the Paris firm of Messrs.
Arthur, Bertrand, and Berenger. He shared this design with Secretary Root, then
sought the approval of the officers of the Medal of Honor Legion. On April 23, 1904
Congress authorized the new design for the Army Medal of Honor.
protect the new design from being copied as had been the earlier Medal, General Gillespie
sought and obtained a patent in November, 1904. The following month he
transferred the patent to Secretary of War William Taft.
Gillespie MEDAL OF
The new Army Medal kept the star but modified the face of the Medal.
The words "United States of America" replaced the ring of 34 stars and
"Minerva Repelling Discord" was changed to display a simple profile of the
helmeted Goddess of War. The oak clusters remained in the points of the star, now in
a dark enameled green. The laurel clusters were moved to a wreath where they too
were enameled in green, in the shape of an open wreath. The eagle that had once
perched on cannon, saber in its talons, now perched on a bar bearing the words
"VALOR" and the shafts of arrows.
The ribbon likewise was changed from its red, white and blue to a single light blue color
on which was embroidered thirteen stars. The reverse of the Medal continued to bear
the words "The Congress To", but these words were now printed on the back side
of the "VALOR" bar, the full back of the Medal itself unadorned to provide for
information on the recipient.
NAVY MEDAL OF HONOR (1913)
Since its birth the Navy's Medal of Honor, presented also to members of
the Marine Corps and Coast Guard, has not changed. In 1913 the anchor that connected
it to the suspension ribbon was changed slightly when the rope was removed. At the
time of that change the ribbon too changed to the same blue silk ribbon bearing 13 stars
that was used with the Army Medal of Honor.
Since the Navy awarded Medals of Honor for both
COMBAT and NON-COMBAT heroism, in 1919 the Department of the Navy decided to distinguish
between the two acts by presenting a different Medal of Honor for each. The Original
Medal would be presented for COMBAT heroism and the new MALTESE CROSS would signify
NON-COMBAT heroism meriting the Medal of Honor. Designed by New York's TIFFANY &
COMPANY, it became known as the "Tiffany Cross".
The blue silk ribbon of the Maltese Cross hung below a bar
bearing the old English spelling for valor, "VALOUR". The Medal itself
featured the American eagle in the center of the award and surrounded by a six sided
border over the top of which was printed "UNITED STATES NAVY" AND "1917 -
1918". An anchor protruded outward from each of the cross's four arms and the
back of the medal bore the words "Awarded To" with a place for the recipient's
The "Tiffany Cross" was not a popular award and is the rarest of all Medals of
Honor in existence. In 1942 it was dropped from the Medal of Honor profile and the
Navy returned to its original Medal of Honor as the only design awarded.
it was not uncommon for Medals of Honor to continue to be pinned to a soldier's tunic
during World War II, the practice of draping it around a recipient's neck became
increasingly used. For this purpose the modern Medal of Honor was suspended from an
8-sided "pad" bearing 13 white stars, to which the blue silk neck ribbon was
of Honor is the only United States Military Award that is worn around the neck rather than
pinned to the uniform.
FORCE MEDAL OF HONOR (1965)
Authorized in 1956, the Air Force unveiled its own design for the Medal
of Honor in 1965. About 50% larger than the other services' Medals of Honor, it
retained the laurel wreath and oak leaves of the Army Medal which had previously been
presented to members of the Army Air Service and Air Corps. It also retained the bar
bearing the word "VALOR". Inside the circle of stars the helmeted profile
of Minerva from the Army's medal is replaced by the head of the Statue of Liberty.
Replacing the Army's eagle is the Air Force Coat of Arms.
On May 2, 1895
Congress authorized "a rosette or knot to be worn in lieu of the medal and a ribbon
to be worn with the medal." Today's Medal of Honor Ribbon is blue with FIVE
stars, 2 at the top and 3 at the bottom. (One of the most common
mistakes people make when displaying Medal of Honor graphics is to display the ribbon
six-sided blue silk rosette bears 13 stars and is worn on civilian attire. Medal of
Honor recipients also wear the Medal itself around the neck of civilian attire for special
When the patent on the Medal of Honor first obtained by General
Gillespie expired in 1918 Congress intervened to protect the Medal's integrity. In
1923 legislation was enacted to prohibit the unauthorized manufacture of medals awarded by
the military services. Additional legislation since then has taken steps to further
protect the awards presented to our military heroes, and the Medal of Honor in particular.
long as our Nation has veterans of military service there will be "war stories"
and embellished tales of battlefield heroics. Such is the nature of military men.
Sadly, some have stooped to the lowest levels by claiming or displaying medals they
are not authorized. Misrepresentation of ones' self as a Medal of Honor recipient
is a CRIME punishable by imprisonment.