The Navy Medal of Honor was established by Act of Congress, December 21, 1861.


For enlisted members, the Navy Medal of Honor has been in effect from April 15, 1861, to the present; for officers, it has been in effect since March 3, 1915.


The Medal of Honor is awarded for conspicuous gallantry and intrepidity at the risk of one's life, above and beyond the call of duty. This gallantry must be performed either while engaged in action against an enemy of the United States; while engaged in military operations involving conflict with an opposing foreign force; or, while serving with friendly foreign forces engaged in an armed conflict against an opposing armed force in which the United States is not a belligerent party.

For award of the Medal of Honor there must be no margin of doubt or any possibility of error. To justify the award, a person must clearly render himself conspicuously above his comrades by an act so outstanding that it clearly distinguishes his gallantry as being beyond the call of duty. It must be the type of action which if not done would not leave him open to criticism, but must be done without detriment to his mission or to the command to which he is attached. Further, the recommendation must be submitted within three years of the act, and the medal must be awarded within five years of the act (there have, however, been exceptions to the rules governing the timing of recommendations and awarding the Medal of Honor).


The Medal of Honor is worn before all other decorations and medals. It is the highest honor that can be conferred on a member of the Armed Forces.


Additional awards of the Navy Medal of Honor are denoted by gold stars.


The Navy Medal of Honor was designed by R.T.G. Winkler an employee of William Wilson & Son Company, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. It was sculpted by Anthony C. Paquet of the Philadelphia Mint.


The first person to earn the Navy Medal of Honor was probably John Williams, who was Captain of the Maintop of the USS Pawnee. The action for which he was awarded the Medal of Honor occurred on June 27, 1861 during an attack on Confederate batteries at Mathias Point, Virginia

Description and Symbolism


The medal is a five-pointed star tipped with trefoils (point down), 52mm from point to point. In the center of each arm is a crown of oak and laurel, representing strength and achievement. A circle of 34 stars surrounds the center of the star (and forms the base to each arm).

The stars represent the number of States in the Union as of the outbreak of the Civil War. In the center of the medal is the standing figure of Minerva, the Goddess of civic strength and wisdom, warding off Discord ("the foul spirit of secession and rebellion") who is represented in a crouching attitude, holding serpents in his hands which with are striking at Minerva with forked tongues. In her right hand she holds a shield taken from the Great Seal of the United States, and in her left she holds a fasces, which represents the lawful authority of the state. The medal is suspended from the ribbon by an anchor which is connected by two rings that pass through the upper arms of the medal.


The reverse of the Navy Medal of Honor is plain (for engraving the recipient's name).


The ribbon is a light blue moire silk neckband one and three sixteenths inches wide and twenty four inches long, behind a square pad in the center made of the ribbon with the corners turned in. Thirteen white stars are woven into the pad.


To locate the citation for a Navy Medal of Honor recipient, click here


For a brief history of the Navy Medal of Honor, click here

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