On August 7, 1782 Commander-in-Chief George Washington created the historic precedent in honoring servicemen with a Purple Heart medal of valor for a “singular meritorious action.” Such awards of valor have gone on to provide a tangible acknowledgment of heroism of sailors, soldiers, marines, and airmen who may otherwise be reluctant to be recognized and so honored.
George Washington’s philosophy and purpose in honoring service men for their sacrifice and valor similarly motivated Iowa Senator James W. Grimes 79 years later in 1861 to introduce a bill in Congress to create a medal of valor for the Navy. That bill passed both Houses of Congress and was approved by President Lincoln on December 12, 1861. Thus the Medal of Honor became the first decoration formally authorized by the U.S. Government to be worn as a badge of honor. Shortly thereafter a Medal of Honor for the Army was authorized and 100 years later a Medal of Honor was also authorized for the Air Force.
Out of honor and respect, there has been a long established tradition for the Commander in Chief to hand salute the recipients of the Medal of Honor. A presidential salute symbolically conveys the recognition, honor, and respect the Medal of Honor recipients deserve and receive from our presidents in their role as Commander-in- Chief. The Medal of Honor, our nation’s highest award of valor, has an obvious connection to all other awards of valor and to the selfless courage and other admirable character virtues displayed by all recipients of awards of valor. There is likewise a meaningful connection to all other military veterans who honorably served and sacrificed. Medal of Honor recipient, Mike Sprayberry, may have said it best, “I’m in awe of our Nation’s heroes and seek to understand where they found their courage in battle, these brave souls many unknown and unrecognized, stand proudly in the shadow of the Medal of Honor.”
Along with a hand salute, our presidents as Commanders-in Chief have conveyed their total respect and highest regard for recipients of the Medal of Honor with particularly memorable and meaningful statements retained and remembered by us as historical quotes. It was President Lincoln who said “Any nation that does not honor its heroes will not long endure.” President Truman, a WWI veteran, was quoted as saying “I would rather have the blue band of the Medal of Honor around my neck than to be President of the United States.” Also President George H.W. Bush stated “The Medal of Honor epitomizes the very best of what America stands for and honors the gallant individuals who have received it. These special people represent the heart and soul of America. They come from all walks of life and nearly every state in our great nation. They truly reflect the ethnic, cultural, economic, and educational diversity of America, but they have a common bond: They are the recipients of the Medal of Honor, the highest award for military heroism.”