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Abraham Lincoln and the Medal of Honor

by Don Meyer, Ph.D. | July 05, 2014

“The soldier, above all other people, prays for peace, for he must suffer and bear the deepest wounds and scars of war.”
Douglas MacArthur

On May 3, 2014 the Freedoms Foundation in Valley Forge, Pa. held a dedication ceremony of a statue of Abraham Lincoln. Made by the artist and sculptor, Stan Watts, the statue of Lincoln is located at the entrance of the Medal of Honor Grove. Watts was recognized as a Sterling Scholar in art; the Sterling Scholar designation being one of Utah’s highest academic recognitions for high school students. 

He is well known for his patriotic bronze sculptures including his most famous bronze sculpture entitled “To Lift a Nation” which is taken from the famous photo of New York City firefighters raising a flag over the collapsed World Trade Center site. 

Led by Michael DiYeso, President and CEO of the Freedoms Foundation, the program included a Villanova University NROTC Color Guard, Valley Forge Christian College musicians and a variety of community leaders.

The Freedoms Foundation was founded in 1949 by E. F. Hutton, Don Belding, Kenneth Wells and General Dwight D. Eisenhower. Located on 85 acres in the heart of the Village of Valley Forge, its mission is to “promote the ideals and principles of our free society and encourage all Americans to embrace both their rights and their responsibilities and contribute to the common good of society.” Since its founding, nearly two million students have been impacted by its citizenship programs.

The entire service was deeply moving as we breathed in the fresh spring air drifting across the sacred terrain of northern Chester County. Although the unveiling of Lincoln’s statue was the high point of the Ceremony of Dedication, it was the keynote address by James G. Mundy, Jr., Director of Education of the Union League of Philadelphia, that I will long remember.

From him we learned that President Lincoln signed the legislation establishing the first Medal of Honor for the Union Navy on December 21, 1861 and about six months later on July 12, 1862 he did the same for the Union Army. And though Lincoln had such an important role in establishing the Medal of Honor, it was the Secretary of War who presented the first Medals of Honor to six soldiers and the Secretary of the Navy who presented the first Medals of Honor to 41 sailors.

“The Medal of Honor is a Civil War creation,” Mundy said, “and that war presented incredible opportunities for personal acts of bravery, valor, and heroism that would deserve such special recognition. Of the more than 3,400 Medals of Honor awarded since then, half are from that war. 

The Medal of Honor is the United States’ highest military honor, awarded for acts of valor above and beyond the call of duty. The medal is awarded by the President of the United States, in the name of the U.S. Congress, to U.S. military personnel only.

When President George W. Bush presented his first Medal of Honor in 2001, he said, “General Eisenhower once observed that when you hear a Medal of Honor citation, you practically assume that the men in question didn’t make it out alive. In fact, about 1 in 6 never did, and the other five … probably didn’t expect to.”

Mundy concluded his presentation with these words, “For me, however, the best quote I found did not belong to Abraham Lincoln, but I think you will agree that he would have approved. It comes from a Medal of Honor recipient, Joshua Lawrence Chamberlain, who earned his medal for his actions on July 2, 1863 on Little Round Top during the Battle of Gettysburg.

In 1888, Chamberlain wrote, ‘The power of noble deeds is to be preserved and passed on to the future.’ It is true of Abraham Lincoln, and it is true of the Medal of Honor.”  

Think about it.

Dr. Don Meyer is President of 
Valley Forge Christian College, Phoenixville, Pa. 
Responses can be mailed to president@vfcc.edu 
Official page: Facebook.com/DrDonMeyer
Follow on Twitter: @DrDonMeyer
Archives at www.vfcc.edu/thinkaboutit