The Medal of Honor: A History of Service Above and Beyond
THE EDITORS OF BOSTON PUBLISHING COMPANY
Minneapolis, MN: Zenith Press
304 pp. $40.00/Hardcover
As the highest military honor bestowed upon individuals who perform acts of valor “above and beyond the call of duty,” the Medal of Honor is synonymous with bravery, selfishness, and heroism. Over 3,400 individuals have received the Medal of Honor. Created in 1861 after the start of the Civil War, the award now has three versions for the Army, Navy, and Air Force. Produced in cooperation with the Congressional Medal of Honor Society of the United States of America, The Medal of Honor: A History of Service Above and Beyond follows the award’s history from it’s inception in 1861, through the various wars and peacekeeping efforts and then, finally, to the present. It sheds a light on those whose valiant acts are now etched into U.S. history.
The Medal of Honor
The Medal of Honor is very much an authoritative resource on the award. Unlike many other authoritative books though, it does not stand on the side throwing out dry tidbits or quick, impersonal overviews. Nor does it give the reader a headache in trying to decipher scholarly jargon. Not only does The Medal of Honor give an adequate, overarching historical explanation of the various U.S. wars and military interventions, but, more importantly, it offers detailed profiles of the actions of Medal of Honor recipients.
Among the fascinating profiles is that of Mary Walker – the only woman who was awarded the Medal of Honor. Not only was she one of the first woman doctors in the U.S., Walker was a stylish dresser who preferred pants to the socially accepted dresses. During the Civil War, she volunteered her services (because of her gender, Walker’s attempts at getting a commission were struck down repeatedly) near the Union front lines. After the war, Walker was upset that she would not get promoted based on her work. Instead, the government offered her something else in recognition of her wartime services – the Medal of Honor. During the Medal of Honor purge of 1916-1917, when Congress reevaluated the award’s criteria, Walker’s medal was revoked along with 911 others including “Buffalo Bill” Cody’s medal from the Indian Wars. They were later restored.
No discussion on military honors is complete without bringing up Audie Murphy. A young, skinny kid who grew up one foot from poverty in Texas, Murphy was rejected by not just the Marines but from the paratroopers as well. He left to fight the Germans with the only group that would take him, the infantry, and returned home as one of the highest decorated soldiers during WWII.
The Medal of Honor profiles a large number of recipients who were perhaps less well-known as Murphy. I especially enjoyed the unique story of Jay Vargas’ medal. Vargas, a Marine during Vietnam, rescued several injuries men during a battle with the North Vietnamese despite being wounded several times. When it came time to receive the Medal of Honor for his actions from President Nixon, Vargas asked for his mother’s name to be engraved on the back instead of his own. His mother had passed away a few months before. All four of her sons served in the military in World War II, Korean War and Vietnam. Nixon allowed her name to be placed on the back. Vargas’ Medal of Honor record actually states “M. Sando Vargas.”
Book Structure & Content
The book is broken down into a foreword, preface, introduction, seven chapters, appendix and a bibliography and credits. The Medal of Honor is a substantial piece of work. I consider it a coffee table book – not too big but not small enough to be considered a regular bookshelf book. The chapter titles include: The Civil War, The Indian Campaigns, The Wars of American Expansion, World War I, World War II, The Cold War, and New Enemies, New Conflicts. The appendix, Register of Recipients, list the names, rank at time of action and the place where the action took place of those who received the Medal of Honor. The list includes those honored during the Civil War era up to a couple of months ago.
If you have followed History By Zim long enough, you know how much I like a photos. The Medal of Honor does not disappoint. With over 290 photographs (both color and black and white) it visually sets the stage when discussing the various wars and those who’s actions were “above and beyond the call of duty.” The pacing of the book was good and overall it flowed very nicely. I found myself always wanting to read just a little more.
The Medal of Honor is an exceptional narrative. Not only does it succeed as a historical resource on the Medal of Honor itself but, also, as a testament of the heroism of the recipients. The book stayed true to its purpose – telling the stories of the bravery and courage of those who fought for the country. For many, the medal is symbolic as it represents those who gave the ultimate sacrifice. One recipient was quoted as saying that it was “a lot harder to wear than it is to earn” (p. 11). Captain Michael J. Daly, a WWII Medal of Honor recipient, saw the medal not as a burden but, rather, as a reminder. “The medal is very important to me . . . to ensure the memory of those who died” (p.173). I highly recommend The Medal of Honor to anyone interested in United States and military history as well as anyone who enjoys general topics.