Medal of Honor Recipients
The Medal of Honor is the highest award for valor in action against an enemy force which can be bestowed upon an individual serving in the Armed Services of the United States. The first Medal was not awarded until January 1894, although the earliest actions for which the Medal was awarded took place before the Civil War began – in 1861. Since then, more than 3,400 Medals have been awarded. A total of 88 Medal of Honors have been awarded to Black Service Members and Veterans.
Sgt. William Harvey Carney was the first Black recipient of the Medal of Honor. Born into slavery in Norfolk, Virginia, Carney and his family were eventually granted freedom and moved to Massachusetts. He joined the Union Army in March of 1863, and was subsequently attached to the Company C, 54th Massachusetts Colored Infantry Regiment, the first official Black unit recruited for the Union. He was awarded the Medal of Honor for his actions on July 18th, 1863 at Fort Wagner, SC. After his unit’s color guard was shot, Carney caught the falling flag and held it high – despite suffering from serious wounds himself. Click here to read the full citation.
William Henry Johnson – commonly known as Henry Johnson – was one of two Black recipients of the Medal of Honor for actions during World War I. Born in Winston Salem, North Carolina, Johnson enlisted in the U.S. Army in June 1917. He was assigned to Company C, 15th New York (Colored) Infantry Regiment – an all-Black National Guard unit that would eventually become the 369th U.S. Infantry Regiment. He was awarded the Medal of Honor for his heroic actions on the front lines of the Western Front in France in May of 1918, when he and another soldier received a surprise attack from a German raiding party. Despite being severely outnumbered and receiving significant wounds, Johnson bravely held back the enemy until the German’s retreated. Click here to read the full citation.
First Lieutenant Vernon J. Baker was awarded the Medal of Honor more than fifty years after World War II, when President Bill Clinton awarded the Medal to seven Black World War II Veterans. Baker was the only living recipient. Born in Cheyenne, Wyoming, Baker enlisted in the U.S. Army in 1941. He was assigned to the segregated 270th Regiment of the 92nd Infantry Division, which was the first Black unit to go into combat in WWII. He was awarded the Medal for his actions in Italy in April 1945, when he advanced ahead of the rest of his company and destroyed enemy installations, personnel, and equipment. The next evening, he led a battalion through enemy mine fields and heavy fire. Click here to read the full citation.
Private First Class William Henry Thompson was awarded the Medal of Honor for his heroic actions while serving as a machine gunner with Company M, 24th Infantry Regiment, 25th Infantry Division in Korea. The New York, New York native fearlessly faced the enemy during a surprise attack in August of 1950, allowing his platoon to withdraw to a safer position. Despite being wounded, he refused to evacuate. He stood his ground until he was ultimately killed by a grenade. Click here to read the full citation.
Private First Class James Anderson, Jr. became the first African American U.S. Marine recipient of the Medal of Honor after he was posthumously awarded the Medal in 1967. The Los Angeles, California native deployed to Vietnam in December of 1966 with Company F, 2nd Battalion, 3rd Marines, 3rd Marine Division. He was mortally wounded in February 1967 when he covered a grenade with his body to save his teammates. He was immediately killed, but the Marines around him survived. Click here to read the full citation.
Click here to view a full list of Black recipients of the Medal of Honor.