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Legacy of Valor: The Medal of Honor

Published: 5/28/2012

Nearly 6,500 American service members have died in the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. Ten of those soldiers, the bravest of the brave, have received the Medal of Honor – seven of them posthumously. Ross McGinnis, Jared Monti, Robert Miller, Paul Smith, Jason Dunham, Michael Murphy and Michael Monsoor all gave their lives in service to their country, and all were awarded the United States' highest military honor.

Ross McGinnis, Jared Monti, Robert Miller, Paul Smith (L to R)

From left: Ross McGinnis, Jared Monti, Robert Miller and Paul Smith


Jason Dunham, Michael Murphy, Mochael Monsoor (L to R)

From left: Jason Dunham, Michael Murphy and Michael Monsoor

First signed into law by President Abraham Lincoln, the Medal of Honor was created to acknowledge military personnel who distinguished themselves through "gallantry in action, and other soldier-like qualities" during the Civil War. The medal is usually given in person by the president on behalf of Congress.

In 2008, we profiled the first four Medal of Honor recipients from the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. Here's a look at those heroic soldiers.

Sergeant First Class Paul Ray Smith, 33, a 13-year veteran of the U.S. Army hailing from Tampa, Fla., became the first recipient of the Medal of Honor for service in Iraq. Killed in action near the Baghdad Airport in 2003, Smith maintained an exposed position under heavy enemy fire to insure the safe withdrawal of numerous wounded soldiers. The official citation notes his "uncommon valor in keeping with the highest traditions of military service."

Smith is survived by his wife and two children, and both a post office and middle school have been named in his honor. In Smith's Guest Book, a fellow Floridian writes, "The definition of the word 'hero' pales in comparison when you read the story of the selfless, courageous deed of Sgt. Paul R. Smith. The lives of the soldiers he saved, their children, and their yet-to-be-born descendents will ever be intertwined with this heroic man."

In January 2007, another heroic man became the first Marine to receive the Medal of Honor since the Vietnam War. Corporal Jason Dunham, 22, was leading a patrol outside Husaybah in 2004 when an insurgent attacked during a vehicle stop. As Dunham wrestled him to the ground, the insurgent released a hand grenade. In an act of supreme bravery and selflessness, Dunham immediately threw himself upon the grenade, saving the lives of at least two fellow Marines. Dunham suffered mortal wounds and died eight days later in a military hospital in Bethesda, Md.

Though four years have elapsed since his passing, this hero from the tiny town of Scio, N.Y., is not forgotten. On the anniversary of his death, a visitor to Dunham's Guest Book writes, "Jason made an impact on many lives, those he saved, and those he touched just by being himself. We will always be grateful to Jason for being a friend to Ian, our son, and Jason's fellow Marine brother." The book The Gift of Valor: A War Story details the story of Dunham's life and sacrifice.

Also featured in a best-selling book was Lieutenant Michael P. Murphy, the first Medal of Honor winner who served in Afghanistan. Murphy, a 29-year-old U.S. Navy SEAL, was near the Pakistan border in 2005 when Afghan insurgents attacked his four-man reconnaissance team. Wounded, Murphy braved enemy fire from dozens of Taliban fighters to radio for help. An American rescue helicopter was shot down while trying to rescue Murphy's team, killing all 16 soldiers onboard. Only one member of the recon team was rescued, Marcus Luttrell, who later wrote the book Lone Survivor, which highlighted the bravery and heroism of Murphy and his team.

Murphy's father was a decorated Vietnam veteran, and his parents have shared their son's inspiring story on numerous TV shows. Lieutenant Michael P. Murphy's Guest Book contains more than 90 pages of tributes, many from people who never met the man, but have been touched and inspired by his selfless actions nonetheless.

The heroism of 25-year-old Petty Officer Second Class Michael Anthony Monsoor in many ways mirrors those of both Murphy and Dunham. Like Murphy, Monsoor was a Navy SEAL who died trying to protect his comrades. While manning a rooftop machine-gun post in the insurgent-held territory of Ar Ramadi, Monsoor, like Dunham, threw himself atop a grenade to absorb the blast, sparing the lives of three others fighting alongside him.

Tributes to Monsoor continue to pour in nearly three years after his death, and on Apr. 8, 2008, his parents received the Medal of Honor on his behalf from President George W. Bush.

Sadly, each week more American service members join the hallowed ranks of those killed in action. Not every soldier will receive a Medal of Honor and the attention and praise that goes with it, but every soldier leaves a lasting legacy, and their loss is deeply felt by families and friends, by communities and by the nation.

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