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Background Information


About the Medal of Honor and Ohio Recipients

History of the Medal of Honor

On December 21, 1861, the United States Congress passed a bill to “promote the efficiency of the Navy” by authorizing production and distribution of “medals of honor.” Two hundred medals were produced, to be “bestowed upon such petty officers, landsmen and marines as shall distinguish themselves by their gallantry in action and other seamanlike qualities during the present war.” A year later, Congress approved a similar a ward for the Army. More than a century later, the Air Force Medal of Honor was created. Originally given only to enlisted soldiers, the honor was eventually extended to officers and civilians. Because it is presented by the president on behalf of the Congress, the award is often called Congressional Medal of Honor. It is the highest military honor given in the United States.

Ohio's Heroes

Nearly 3,500 medals have been awarded since 1863, when the first Medals of Honor were presented on March 25 to six members of Andrews’ Raiders, a group of twenty-three volunteers from Ohio who followed James J. Andrews, a Virginian and Union spy, on a daring mission to disrupt transportation and communication lines between Atlanta and Chattanooga by burning bridges. Only partly successful, the Raiders were all captured by Confederate troops. Andrews and seven others were hanged, and fourteen were sent to prison camps. The six men who received the first medals were exchanged for Southern prisoners held in the North. Secretary of War Edwin Stanton heard the story from the men shortly after their release from prison, and presented the medals, which had recently been authorized by Congress, to Jacob Parrott, William Bensinger, Robert Buffum, Elihu Mason, William Pittinger, and William H. Reddick.

Including the first six, 319 recipients of the Medal of Honor have some connection to Ohio. Twenty-three Ohio recipients served in the Navy, one in the Air Force, 3 in the Army Air Corps, 17 in the Marine Corps, the remaining 275 served in the Army.

  • 144 were born in the state and their medals are accredited to Ohio
  • 107 recipients were not native Ohioans, but their medals were accredited to the Buckeye State
  • 68 men were born in Ohio, but their medals were accredited to other states
More than half of Ohio's recipients fought in the Civil War. Award winners by conflict:

ConflictRecipients
Civil War 195
Campaigns against Native Americans 53
Spanish American War 4
World War I4
World War II 32
Korean War3
Vietnam War13
Other conflicts and peacetime 15
Total 319

The most recent recipient from Ohio was Airman First Class William Pitsenbarger, who in 1966 near Cam My in the Republic of Vietnam, assisted in the care and evacuation of wounded soldiers while placing himself at great risk. When escape helicopters were forced to leave the scene, Pitsenbarger stayed on the ground, providing medical treatment and taking up arms with infantrymen. Pitsenbarger was fatally wounded on that day. His award, issued in December 2000, was presented posthumously to his family.

The criteria for the award changed over the years since the Civil War, but the common theme has been extraordinary courage demonstrated through actions taken despite great danger and against all odds. Many of the men who received the Medal of Honor made the ultimate sacrifice of their own lives to protect and defend not only their fellow soldiers, but also the Americans ideals of freedom and justice for all.


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