Soldiers who risk their lives for their country are heroes. Sometimes, soldiers demonstrate incredible bravery through “conspicuous gallantry and intrepidity at the risk of [their lives] above and beyond the call of duty while engaged in an action against an enemy of the United States.”

When this happens, soldiers may earn the Medal of Honor. The Medal of Honor is the highest military decoration awarded by the U.S. government.

All branches of the armed forces may receive the Medal of Honor. There are three versions of the medal: one for the Army, one for the Air Force and one for the Navy, Marine Corps and Coast Guard.

The actual medal awarded has changed over time. Today, the Army Medal of Honor is a gold star surrounded by a wreath under an eagle on a bar with the word “valor” inscribed on it. It hangs from a light blue silk neckband. The other versions of the medal are very similar to the Army version.

The word “valor” means heroic courage or bravery in the face of great danger. This word sums up the special requirements of the Medal of Honor. The award is presented by the president of the United States on behalf of Congress as the representatives of the American people.

Since the Civil War, 3,473 Medals of Honor have been awarded to 3,454 different people. Nineteen people have received two awards; 14 of these received two separate medals for two different actions, while five received both the Army and Navy awards for the same action.

The first Medal of Honor recipient was Jacob Parrott for his actions during the Civil War. The only female Medal of Honor recipient is Mary Edwards Walker, who was a Civil War surgeon.

Because the Medal of Honor requires exceptional bravery in life-threatening situations, it is often awarded posthumously (after death). Since the 1973 withdrawal of U.S. troops from Vietnam, the Medal of Honor has been awarded to only one living person: Salvatore Giunta.

Sal Giunta, an Army staff sergeant, received the Medal of Honor from President Barack Obama in 2010. On October 25, 2007, Giunta saved the lives of several members of his squad during an ambush near the Pakistan-Afghanistan border.

Attacking insurgents were armed with assault rifles, rocket-propelled grenade launchers and machine guns. Giunta said, “[T]here were more bullets in the air than stars in the sky. A wall of bullets at every one at the same time with one crack and then a million other cracks afterwards. They’re above you, in front of you, behind you, below you. They’re hitting in the dirt early. They’re going over your head. Just all over the place. They were close — as close as I’ve ever seen.”

Giunta’s bravery in saving lives that day was incredible. However, he is modest when asked about his actions that day.

He claims he did nothing that his fellow soldiers wouldn’t have done for him. One of his fellow soldiers had this to say about Giunta: “For all intents and purposes, with the amount of fire that was going on in the conflict at the time, he shouldn’t be alive.”


22 Join the Discussion

1 Star2 Stars3 Stars4 Stars5 Stars  (9 votes, avg. 4.78 out of 5)
  1. Salvatore Guinta was a especially brave man. I wonder why people never accept themselves as being a hero when they really did something heroic. Not many people who fought in a war that they won think that they are a hero. Even if they didn’t win the war they don’t even think of themselves as a hero just for being brave and trying.

    (my brain hurts)

    • Thanks for posting such an AMAZING comment, Grace! Being humble is a trait that many people we would consider to be heroes (like Staff Sgt. Giunta) share. They say they were only “doing their job” or “doing what anyone else would do in the same situation.” We think it takes great courage to put yourself in harm’s way to help someone else or save their lives. :-)

    • Thanks for another great link, Duane! It’s great to hear about and learn more about these courageous heroes! :-)

    • We’ll vote for you, Sophie! You are a GREAT Wonder Friend who loves WONDERing about the world around her and learning new things in Wonderopolis! We think that ROCKS! :-)

    • Thanks so much for commenting, Wonder Friend Do do bird! We Wonder what your favorite part of this Wonder is? We love meeting great new friends like you! :)

    • How cool, nnrocks! We are so happy to hear that you learned something new about the medals we see in the Olympics, as well as those that are given to the heros in our world! We hope you’re having a great time at the Junior Olympics! How WONDERful– we Wonder if you are participating in or watching those awesome events? :)

    • We are so glad you’ve been WONDERing with us today, Garrett! Thanks for sharing your comment and telling us all about your dreams of receiving the Medal of Honor. Keep up the great work! :)

    • Hey there, Diamond Team! We’re so glad you’re WONDERing with us this morning! There are lots of medals, for different reasons, that you could earn or win. Sometimes athletes receive medals for their extraordinary talents!

      We bet you’ll like this awarding Wonder: #872 HOW DO YOU BREAK THE MOLD? :)

      • Gintu was presenteded the medal of honor because he went to save his friends and buddies. He is probably proud to say that he is very helpful and is a very trustworthy friend. You can also be presented with the citizen award and so on and so forth. Just help out either and you will get something in return.

        • Thanks for WONDERing with us again, Queen! We’re so glad you’re learning about the Medal of Honor with us! We can’t wait to WONDER with you more! :)

  2. Gintu was the only one who was awarded the medal of honor and he risked his life for his buddies. He was very brave to do that, and he also was helpful to his friends. Many medals can be earned by trust, helpfulness and kindness.

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Have you ever wondered…

  • What is the Medal of Honor?
  • What is valor?
  • Who is Salvatore Giunta?

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Who is your hero? Do you know a brave soldier or a policeman or a firefighter? Or maybe a teacher, a parent, a relative or a friend has made a huge difference in your life?

Take some time today to write a short thank-you note to someone who is a hero in your life. Here are a couple of questions you can answer that will help you write your note:

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Still Wondering

Visit Smithsonian’s History Explorer for a closer look at three men who earned the Medal of Honor: Frank Brownell, Christian Fleetwood and Daniel Butterfield.


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