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Today is National Medal of Honor Day

The Medal of Honor is the highest military decoration awarded by the United States government. It is bestowed on a member of the United States armed forces who distinguishes himself "conspicuously by gallantry and intrepidity at the risk of his life above and beyond the call of duty while engaged in an action against an enemy of the United States." (Airman 1st Class Veronica Salgado/U.S. Air Force)
March 25, 2019

Today is National Medal of Honor Day, a special day set aside to honor all recipients of the Medal of Honor — the United States’ highest military decoration.

Every March 25 commemorates the six-character trait pillars, courage, sacrifice, patriotism, citizenship, integrity, and commitment espoused by Medal of Honor recipients, according to the Patriot Post.

Congress passed a bill in 1990 to declare the holiday, which became Public Law 101-564 after President George H.W. Bush’s signature. National Medal of Honor Day was recognized for the first time in 1991.

The Medal of Honor was awarded for the first time on March 25, 1863 to Jacob Parrott for his actions in the April 1862 Great Locomotive Chase.

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The medal is an emblem of heroism and sacrifice. It has been awarded to more than 3,500 heroes, according to the National Medal of Honor museum.

It the only military honor that is worn around the neck, and garners such respect that all ranks of the military traditionally salute the recipient.

President Trump will award Army Staff Sgt. Travis Atkins with the Medal of Honor on March 27.

Atkins lost his life on June 1, 2007 after he saw an insurgent reaching for the trigger on his suicide vest in Iraq. According to a White House statement, “Atkins tackled him, selflessly using his own body to shield his fellow soldiers from the imminent explosion. Atkins’ heroic actions, at the cost of his life, saved the lives of three of his teammates.”

Atkins’ Humvee driver saw the sergeant “engulf his opponent in a bear hug, lift him off the ground, and slam back down. Then [the driver] heard, saw and felt the explosion, and both men vanished,” the Washington Examiner reported.

Atkin’s son Trevor, who is now 23-years-old, will accept the Medal of Honor at the ceremony on Wednesday. He was 11 when his father died in the line of duty and accepted the folded flag that was draped over his casket.

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In Oct. 2018, retired Marine Corps Sgt. Maj. John L. Canley was awarded the Medal of Honor by President Trump for his actions in the Vietnam War Battle of Hue, Stars and Stripes reported.

Canley, 80, was the seventh person to receive the award by President Trump and it came some 51 years posthumously.

At the ceremony, Trump said, “In one instance after another, John risked his own life to save his Marines. He just continued to face the enemy with no regard for his own life.”

Also, in Oct. 2018, the President awarded the Medal of Honor to former Army Staff Sgt. Ronald Shurer II.

Shurer, a Green Beret, was assigned a mission to locate a deadly terrorist. His team was taken to a dangerous and isolated area by helicopter and dropped off in the Shok Valley of Afghanistan, according to Military.com.

They were ambushed by 200 well-armed terrorists. Shurer was a trained medic and by his bravery and courage, he was able to treat and save many of his fellow soldiers. Not one life was lost.

“The meritorious conduct must involve great personal bravery or self-sacrifice so conspicuous as to clearly distinguish the individual above his or her comrades and must have involved risk of life. There must be incontestable proof of the performance of the meritorious conduct, and each recommendation for the award must be considered on the standard of extraordinary merit,” the White House statement explained.

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This article was updated to reflect the date that National Medal of Honor Day was first recognized as a national holiday.