National Archives Exhibit Highlights Medal of Honor Recipients
Press Release · Friday, April 1, 2005

Washington, DC. . . Sergeant 1st Class Paul Ray Smith will receive the Medal of Honor posthumously during a White House ceremony April 4, 2005. This will be the first Medal of Honor awarded for service in Iraq, and the date will mark the second anniversary of Sergeant Smith's death in battle in Iraq.

The National Archives takes special pride in its role of preserving the records of those who have protected the United States. The National Archives holds both individual service records and unit records stretching from the American Revolution to the Gulf War, covering all branches of the military service. Of the 1.4 million cubic feet of permanently valuable records of the federal government stored in the National Archives, well over half relate to military affairs.

The National Archives' new permanent exhibition, The Public Vaults draws from this vast collection of records. One entire vault of the exhibition – "Provide for the Common Defense" – highlights the U.S. military. Documents and historic photos tell powerful stories of both individual heroism and collective sacrifice. Together with declassified records of strategy and tactics, these materials bring a human dimension to the tragedy of war. A special section on official citations for exemplary service features stories of seven Medal of Honor recipients.

This permanent exhibition is free and open to the public. The National Archives is located on the National Mall on Constitution Avenue at 9th Street, NW. Spring hours are 10 a.m. – 7:00 p.m. daily.

History of the Medal of Honor

In 1782, General George Washington established the first formal system for rewarding acts of individual gallantry by the nation's fighting men. The award consisted of a purple cloth heart. In 1847 during the Mexican-American War, a "certificate of merit" was established for any soldier who distinguished himself in action. No medal went with the honor. During the Civil War, a resolution containing a provision for a Navy medal of valor was signed into law by President Abraham Lincoln "to be bestowed upon such petty officers, seamen, landsmen, and Marines as shall most distinguish themselves by their gallantry and other seamanlike qualities during the present war." Shortly afterwards, the Army introduced a similar resolution that was signed into law providing for a medal of honor "to such noncommissioned officers and privates as shall most distinguish themselves by their gallantry in action, and other soldierlike qualities, during the present insurrection."

Although it was created for the Civil War, Congress made the Medal of Honor a permanent decoration in 1863. Since the decoration's creation, the President, in the name of Congress, has awarded more than 3,400 Medals of Honor, but only 842 since World War II when the requirements were tightened. Today there are 125 living recipients of the Medal of Honor, 46 from World War II, and the remainder split between actions in Korea and Vietnam.

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Press Contact: National Archives Public Affairs Staff, 202-501-5526.


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