Medal of Honor Dates Back to Civil War

Strict criteria must be met for a serviceman to receive the honor

Tom Puckett
June 12, 2019 - 4:00 am

AP Photo


Buffalo, NY (WBEN) In less than two weeks, WBEN's own David Bellavia will be in Washington to accept the Medal of Honor, the nation's highest military honor.

WATCH/LISTEN: David Bellavia Meets the Press and Reflects on MOH Honor

The honor itself dates back to the Civil War, says Laura Jowdy of the Medal of Honor Society. "It was an effort to recognize and reward those who went above and beyond. It was the only medal for valor at the time, and it remained so until World War I," says Jowdy, who notes Distinguished Service Cross, Silver Star and others were added at that time. "The rarest of the rare acts are recognized with the Medal of Honor," explains Jowdy.

Jowdy says the criteria are strict. "It must be in combat, it must be at the risk of the individual's life, and it also must be an act so outstanding it clearly distinguishes gallantry beyond the call of duty," explains Jowdy. Jowdy says there have only been 3,500 recipients in the 150 year history.

Jowdy says while she's never attended one, the Medal of Honor ceremony is broadcast and encourages people to watch. "What they do is have the individual come up on stage with the president. The president says a few words about what occurred and reads off the citation. The president will then place the medal on the recipient's neck. It's very moving to watch, and it's so rare it's really worth watching," says Jowdy.

Jowdy says a recipient's life changes a hundred times over. "If you talk to the individuals who have received awards, they are being approached for interviews. Their lives became about the medal. There are only 70 living recipients and they travel 200 plus days a year with speaking engagements. It can change the entire outlook of someone's life," says Jowdy.

Local veterans are also excited. "I think it's fabulous," says Tom O'Connell, Erie County American Legion President. "I congratulate David. I know it's a positive for WNY even though it's a sad occasion because he had to earn this through war."

O'Connell says we can be proud of all our veterans, and especially David. "The fact he is still alive is still better. It's my understanding he's the first WNY to receive this honor while living," says O'Connell. 

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