Looking back on 150 years of Medal of Honor

Looking back on 150 years of Medal of Honor

(WTVM) - It is the highest military decoration awarded by the U.S. government, and more than 3,500 soldiers, sailors, airmen and Marines have earned it.

"The nation's oldest award for bravery is the Medal of Honor, and it came about during our bloodiest war, our Civil War, 1861 to 1865," said Frank Hanner, director of the National Infantry Museum.

The first recipients were Union soldiers, who went undercover to steal a Confederate train. It led to the Great Locomotive Chase between Atlanta and Chattanooga.

The 20th century had its share of heroes too. The Main Post Cemetery at Fort Benning is the final resting place of three Medal of Honor recipients, two of them buried side by side.

"Donald R. Johnston of Columbus, Georgia, who earned the Medal of Honor at age 19, fighting in Vietnam, and beside him is Col. Robert Nett, known to us here in the community as Bob Nett. He earned his Medal of Honor fighting in the Pacific against the Japanese during World War II."

Hanner talks proudly of the display known as the Hall of Valor, which honors not only the Army and Infantry, but every branch of the military.

"If your ancestor earned the medal in the Navy, his story is in there and you can actually read what they accomplished," Hanner said.

Ola Mize, a recipient, describes the 1953 ceremony with President Eisenhower when he received his Medal of Honor.

"Here's an old country boy from northeast Alabama, redneck, meeting the President of the United States," Mize said. "It was just. It was unreal. And he stood there and talked to me, then put the medal around my neck. He seen I was nervous and he comes and says, I would be too, a fellow as young as you are looking at an old crow like that. Broke the ice."

More than a dozen Medal of Honor recipients were on hand Monday at Arlington National Cemetery. They took part in a ceremony, recognizing four citizen heroes for their life-saving actions.

Copyright 2013 WTVM. All rights reserved.