The Medal of Honor is the highest award given to military personnel in the United States. The combat stories of honorees rival even the most ambitious Hollywood action movies.
Consider Hiroshi Miyamura. While serving in Korea in April 1951, he killed 10 soldiers in hand-to-hand combat. While continuing to oppose the enemy, he evacuated wounded 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, fought with a rifle and pistol, manned a mortar, and kept communications equipment and classified documents out of enemy hands. He is credited with killing at least 135 soldiers.
Many honorees have thrown themselves on grenades to protect comrades, like Afghanistan veteran William Kyle Carpenter and World War II veteran Robert Dale Maxwell. Surely the additional pension granted to honorees, which currently stands at $1,259 a month, did not motivate the valor of these individuals. Their bravery arose for different reasons.
Psychologist Dr. Patrick Tissington says that people in combat sometimes experience ‘hot courage’ that inspires them to ignore personal safety for the sake of doing the right thing. In the view of psychologist Steven Kotler, people might risk their lives while in the ‘company of like-minded individuals’. The environment and belonging to a team set the stage for acts of bravery.
As of October 23, 2017, 3,500 people have been awarded the Medal since its debut on March 25, 1863 during the Civil War. With its golden eagle and star medallion, the medal embodies the beauty of selfless courage displayed by its recipients. 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 the extraordinary deeds of honorees. Battle breeds intense camaraderie, and the needs of the group can wash away thoughts of self-preservation and grant individuals great courage and endurance.