Medal of Honor: The Hard Way or the Hard Way

To earn a Medal of Honor commit a multi-part act of near comic-book-style heroism and, more often than not, die. Pentagon committees then convene to determine whether your valor merits an award traditionally given for acts so brave that no one would have even thought to complain if the soldier had neglected to do them.

In “The Bravery Trap: What does the Medal of Honor tell us about the nature of bravery?Graeme Wood explores the psychology of bravery and some philosophical issues as to proper role of intent, outcome, and circumstance in judging acts of heroism.

It’s worth a read but what caught my attention is this answer to the question that we’ve been bandying about off and on for going on a decade:  Why has the Medal of Honor become so rare and reserved, until Staff Sergeant Salvatore Giunta broke the string, for those killed in action?

Combat bravery is not exactly rare, so why is it so difficult to merit the Medal of Honor? In practice, to earn the Medal you have two methods at your disposal: the hard way and, well, the other hard way.  Call them Hard Way #1 and Hard Way #2.

Hard Way #1 is to commit a multi-part act of near comic-book-style heroism (see here or here, or Giunta’s case) and, more often than not, die. Pentagon committees then convene to determine whether your valor merits an award traditionally given for acts so brave that no one would have even thought to complain if the soldier had neglected to do them.

Hard Way #2 is a faster and surer method of winning the Medal: smother a grenade with your body and save the lives of your fellow servicemen. This method nearly always wins the Medal—some 70 times in Vietnam, and three times since September 11—but the catch is that you almost always die.

That’s about right.

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FILED UNDER: Military Affairs, Quick Takes
James Joyner
About James Joyner
James Joyner is Professor and Department Head of Security Studies at Marine Corps University's Command and Staff College and a nonresident senior fellow at the Scowcroft Center for Strategy and Security at the Atlantic Council. He's a former Army officer and Desert Storm vet. Views expressed here are his own. Follow James on Twitter @DrJJoyner.

Comments

  1. sam says:

    “the catch is that you almost always die”

    Too right. One Marine I know of who did that and survived was Jacklyn Lucas. He was also the youngest recipient of the medal, I think, , having only turned 17 days before the invasion. He was 14 when he lied about his age and enlisted. He was stationed in Hawaii, went awol from his unit, which was not then going anywhere, stowed away on the ship carrying his cousin that was heading for an invasion, which turned out to be Iwo Jima.

  2. A former Marine whom I know well also served with a man who pulled not one, but two grenades under him (at the same time) and lived to receive his MOH in person.