If Sgt. 1st Class Paul R. Smith had been nominated for the Medal of Honor in 1863 instead of 2003, he likely would have gotten it.
During the Civil War, the medal was awarded to men in a Maine regiment who did nothing more than extend their enlistments on the eve of the Battle of Gettysburg. (Their medals were rescinded in 1917.)
Other soldiers, of course, displayed courage in combat. But not until the end of World War I were the rules revised to require extraordinary bravery.
That, according to Allen Mikaelian in his book Medal of Honor, explains why, from World War II until now, most of the men who received the medal "did not survive the action for which they are honored."
That includes the most recent recipients, two Army Special Forces sergeants who died trying to protect the crew of a downed helicopter in Somalia in 1993. Their actions were described in the book Black Hawk Down.
At last count, there were 132 living Medal of Honor recipients.
Medal of Honor awards World War II to present:
WAR TOTAL POSTHUMOUS
World War II 464 266
Korea 131 94
Vietnam 245 154
Somalia 2 2
+ + +
By law, the Medal of Honor is awarded by the president, in the name of Congress, to those in the armed services who distinguish themselves "conspicuously by gallantry and intrepidity at the risk of (their lives) above and beyond the call of duty."
Sgt. Smith's nomination will have to pass through 12 links on the chain of command before reaching the White House.
A list of all the winners and summaries of their heroics can be found at: www.army.mil/cmh-pg/Moh1.htm.
_ Information from Medal of Honor by Allen Mikaelian and the Congressional Medal of Honor Society was used in this report.
The Army Medal of Honor has an image of Minerva, symbolizing wisdom and righteous war, inset in a five-pointed star. The medal is suspended by a blue silk ribbon. The ribbon is attached to an eagle supported by a horizontal bar. The word "Valor" appears on the bar.