Can Non U.S. Citizens receive the Medal of Honor?

Do you have to be a U.S. citizen to receive the Medal of Honor?

Answer: Yes. Although Medals of Honor can be awarded only to members of the U.S. armed forces, being a U.S. citizen is not a prerequisite for eligibility to receive the medal.

On July 12, 1862, President Abraham Lincoln signed into law a measure calling for the awarding of a U.S. Army Medal of Honor. The previous December, Lincoln had approved a provision creating a U.S. Navy Medal of Valor, which was the basis of the Army Medal of Honor created by Congress in July 1862. As History notes, “the first U.S. Army soldiers to receive what would become the nation’s highest military honor were six members of a Union raiding party who in 1862 penetrated deep into Confederate territory to destroy bridges and railroad tracks between Chattanooga, Tennessee, and Atlanta, Georgia.” Since then more than 3,400 Medals of Honor have been awarded to our nation’s bravest Soldiers, Sailors, Airmen, Marines, and Coast Guardsmen. One lesser known fact about the medal of honor is that it has been awarded to other nations’ bravest as well.

Although Medals of Honor can be awarded only to members of the U.S. armed forces, being a U.S. citizen is not a prerequisite for eligibility to receive the medal. Since the American Civil War, hundreds of people born outside the United States have received the medal, the most recent of these recipients being Pedro Cano (pictured above) and Jesus S. Duran who received their medals in March 2014 for actions performed during World War II and the Vietnam War respectively. In fact, “immigrants have received the Medal of Honor in every war since the medal was first established” the Cato Institute notes. “To receive it, a recipient must risk his life, the bravery of his act must be considered beyond the call of duty and distinguished from other acts, and at least two eyewitnesses must have observed the act and provide incontestable evidence that it occurred. More than 20 percent (over 700) of the Congressional Medal of Honor recipients in U.S. wars have been immigrants.” Michael Spradlin points out that over 60 Canadians have been awarded the medal.

One other interesting thing to note is that while the medal is generally given only to U.S. military members, in the history of the United States, eight civilians have received the honor for their actions on the battlefield. We Are The Mighty points out that a “purge of Medal of Honor recipients in 1917 stripped the eight of their awards (with a total of 911 previous awardees) after Congress tightened the rules. Seven were restored in 1989, and one more in 1977.” One of the more famous civilians to receive the medal was “Buffalo Bill” Cody who was a scout for the U.S. Army during the Indian Wars. According to We Are The Mighty “he received the medal for gallantry in combat after leading a cavalry charge against a band of Sioux warriors. He killed two of the warriors, recovered their horses, and then chased them off the battlefield. His medal was restored in 1989.” Times have changed since the late 1800s, but you never know when and if you’ll be in a position to risk your life for our country and maybe just end up with a medal of your own.

Cover Photo: Pedro Cano is pinned with Distinguished Service Cross medal by General Jonathan Wainwright