In the United States, the Medal of Honor represents the highest award available to military personnel. Combat stories of honorees rival even the most ambitious Hollywood action movies.
Consider how Hiroshi Miyamura, while serving in Korea in April 1951, killed 10 soldiers in hand-to-hand combat. He then evacuated wounded while continuing to oppose the enemy until his capture.
In March 1966, Bennie Adkins suffered 18 wounds during a 38-hour battle in Vietnam. He carried wounded while drawing sniper fire, manned a mortar, fought with both rifle and pistol, and kept communications equipment and classified documents out of enemy hands.
Many honorees have thrown themselves on grenades to protect comrades, like William Kyle Carpenter in Afghanistan and Robert Dale Maxwell in World War II. Surely the additional pension granted to honorees did not motivate their valor. Their bravery arose for different reasons.
Psychologist Patrick Tissington says people in combat sometimes experience “hot courage”, inspiring them to ignore their own personal safety for the sake of others. Psychologist Steven Kotler’s view suggest that people might risk their lives while in the “company of like-minded individuals.” The environment and belonging to a team set stages for acts of bravery.
Battle breeds intense camaraderie, the needs of the group wash away thoughts of self preservation granting individuals great courage and endurance. Surviving honorees appreciate the recognition, but it cannot undo the damage of war. As recipient Salvatore Giunta said, “I would give this back in a second to have my friends with me right now.”
Such heartfelt words reveal the motivations behind extraordinary deeds of honorees. More than 3000 people have been awarded the Medal of Honor since its debut on March 25, 1863. It’s golden eagle and star medallion embodies the beauty of the selfless courage displayed by its recipients.