The Medal of Honor is the nation's highest medal for valor in combat that can be awarded to members of the armed forces. The Medal of Honor was first authorized in 1861 for Sailors and Marines, and the following year for Soldiers as well. Since then, more than 3,400 Medals of Honor have been awarded to members of all DoD services and the Coast Guard. It is awarded sparingly and bestowed only to the bravest of the brave; and that courage must be well documented. A total of eight members from the U.S. Army Chaplain Corps have been awarded the Medal of Honor: four from the Civil War; one from the Boxer Rebellion; two from the Vietnam War; and one from the Korean War. Calvin P. Titus is the only chaplain assistant to receive the Medal of Honor.
Chaplain John M. Whitehead
Unit: 15th Indiana Infantry
Location & Date: Stones River, Tennessee, on December 31, 1862
Chaplain John M. Whitehead of the 15th Indiana Infantry was the first of four chaplains to earn the Medal of Honor during the Civil War. At the Battle of Stones River, Chaplain Whitehead, according to his Medal of Honor citation, “went to the front during a desperate contest and, unaided, carried to the rear several wounded and helpless soldiers.” Chaplain Whitehead survived the war and was presented the Medal of Honor on April 4, 1898.
Chaplain Francis B. Hall
Unit: 16th New York Infantry
Location & Date: Salem Heights, Virginia, on May 3, 1863
Chaplain Francis B. Hall, chaplain of the 16th New York Infantry, became the second Army chaplain to be awarded the Medal of Honor recipient for heroism during the Civil War. Chaplain Hall “voluntarily exposed himself to heavy fire during the thickest of the fight and carried wounded men to the rear for treatment and attendance.”
First Lieutenant James Hill
Unit: 21st Iowa Infantry
Location & Date: Champion Hill, Mississippi, on May 16, 1863
First Lieutenant James Hill First the 21st Iowa Infantry received the Medal of Honor for heroism at the Battle of Champion Hill on May 16, 1863, where he “by skillful and brave management captured three of the enemy’s pickets.” (A ‘picket’ consisted of 40 to 50 men who were posted on guard in front of a main force to provide warning in the event of an attack). Though Hill was serving as an infantry lieutenant at the time, he later became his regiment’s chaplain.
Unit: 55th Illinois Infantry
Location & Date: Atlanta, Georgia, on July 22, 1864
Chaplain Milton L. Haney of the 55th Illinois Infantry earned the Medal of Honor for heroism while serving as his unit’s chaplain at the Battle of Atlanta during the Civil War. He received the award for acts outside the scope of a chaplain’s duties. Chaplain Haney volunteered to serve as a rifleman in ranks and rendered heroic service in retaking a position which had been captured by the enemy. Haney “voluntarily carried a musket in the ranks of his regiment and rendered heroic service in retaking the Federal works which had been captured by the enemy.” Haney was not the only “fighting chaplain” during the Civil War - some 97 Union clergymen carried a weapon during the conflict. Many chaplains filled multiple roles in addition to their religious support – from surgeon’s assistants to line officers. A total of 2,546 chaplains served in the Union Army during the Civil War.
Unit: 14th U.S. Infantry
Location & Date: Peking, China, on August 14, 1900
Musician Calvin P. Titus of the 14th U.S. Infantry Regiment received the Medal of Honor for his actions at the Battle of Peking during the Boxer Rebellion. Risking his life to lead the way for others, Titus scaled the 30-foot Peking city wall under enemy fire on August 14, 1900. When Colonel Daggett had earlier asked his men if scaling the wall was possible, Titus’ replied, “I’ll try, sir,” – a phrase that later became the motto of the 14th Infantry Regiment. Two years later, while Titus was a cadet at West Point, President Theodore Roosevelt awarded him the Medal of Honor for his heroism. Titus received the award for, “Gallant and daring conduct in the presence of his colonel and other officers and enlisted men of his regiment; was first to scale the wall of the city.” Though, the job of chaplain assistant wasn’t officially authorized until December 28, 1909, Titus was one of many Soldiers who served as a voluntary, part-time chaplain assistant in the years prior to the Army’s authorization for Soldiers to assist chaplains on a full-time basis.
Unit: 3d Battalion, 8th Cavalry Regiment, 1st Cavalry Division
Location & Date: Unsan, Korea, November 1-2, 1950
Chaplain (Captain) Emil J. Kapaun of the 8th Cavalry Regiment, 1st Cavalry Division was posthumously awarded the Medal of Honor on April 11, 2013, for his heroic actions in the battle of Unsan during the Korean War on November 1-2, 1950. During the battle, Kapaun was attached to the 3rd Battalion, 8th Cavalry Regiment, which was assigned to provide a rear guard for the regiment's withdrawal. As Chinese Communist forces encircled the battalion, Kapaun moved fearlessly from foxhole to foxhole under enemy direct fire in order to provide comfort and reassurance to the outnumbered Soldiers. Despite continuing enemy fire, he repeatedly crawled to wounded men and either dragged them back to safety of the American lines or dug shallow trenches to shield them from enemy fire. Shortly after Kapaun's capture, he intervened to save the life of Staff Sergeant Herbert Miller, who was lying in a nearby ditch with a broken ankle and other injuries. Chaplain Kapaun later died in a Chinese POW camp on May 23, 1951.
Citation: “The President of the United States of America, authorized by Act of Congress, March 3, 1863, has awarded in the name of Congress the Medal of Honor to Chaplain (Captain) Emil J. Kapaun, United States Army, for conspicuous gallantry and intrepidity at the risk of his life above and beyond the call of duty:
Chaplain Emil J. Kapaun distinguished himself by acts of gallantry and intrepidity above and beyond the call of duty while serving with the 3d Battalion, 8th Cavalry Regiment, 1st Cavalry Division during combat operations against an armed enemy at Unsan, Korea, from November 1-2, 1950. On November 1, as Chinese Communist Forces viciously attacked friendly elements, Chaplain Kapaun calmly walked through withering enemy fire in order to provide comfort and medical aid to his comrades and rescue friendly wounded from no-man's land. Though the Americans successfully repelled the assault, they found themselves surrounded by the enemy. Facing annihilation, the able-bodied men were ordered to evacuate. However, Chaplain Kapaun, fully aware of his certain capture, elected to stay behind with the wounded. After the enemy succeeded in breaking through the defense in the early morning hours of November 2, Chaplain Kapaun continually made rounds, as hand-to-hand combat ensued. As Chinese Communist Forces approached the American position, Chaplain Kapaun noticed an injured Chinese officer amongst the wounded and convinced him to negotiate the safe surrender of the American Forces. Shortly after his capture, Chaplain Kapaun, with complete disregard for his personal safety and unwavering resolve, bravely pushed aside an enemy soldier preparing to execute Sergeant First Class Herbert A. Miller. Not only did Chaplain Kapaun's gallantry save the life of Sergeant Miller, but also his unparalleled courage and leadership inspired all those present, including those who might have otherwise fled in panic, to remain and fight the enemy until captured. Chaplain Kapaun's extraordinary heroism and selflessness, above and beyond the call of duty, are in keeping with the highest traditions of military service and reflect great credit upon himself, the 3d Battalion, 8th Cavalry Regiment, the 1st Cavalry Division, and the United States Army.
Chaplain (Major) Charles J. Watters
Unit: 173d Support Battalion, 173d Airborne Brigade
Location & Date: Near Dak To Province, Republic of Vietnam, on November 19, 1967
Chaplain (Major) Charles J. Watters of the 173rd Airborne Brigade earned the Medal of Honor on November 19, 1967, for selflessly moving under fire to carry wounded Soldiers to safety in Dak To Province. He was fatally injured while giving aid to the wounded.
Citation: “For conspicuous gallantry and intrepidity in action at the risk of his life above and beyond the call of duty. Chaplain Watters distinguished himself during an assault in the vicinity of Dak To. Chaplain Watters was moving with one of the companies when it engaged a heavily armed enemy battalion. As the battle raged and the casualties mounted, Chaplain Watters, with complete disregard for his safety, rushed forward to the line of contact. Unarmed and completely exposed, he moved among, as well as in front of the advancing troops, giving aid to the wounded, assisting in their evacuation, giving words of encouragement, and administering the last rites to the dying. When a wounded paratrooper was standing in shock in front of the assaulting forces, Chaplain Watters ran forward, picked the man up on his shoulders and carried him to safety. As the troopers battled to the first enemy entrenchment, Chaplain Watters ran through the intense enemy fire to the front of the entrenchment to aid a fallen comrade. A short time later, the paratroopers pulled back in preparation for a second assault. Chaplain Watters exposed himself to both friendly and enemy fire between the 2 forces in order to recover 2 wounded soldiers. Later, when the battalion was forced to pull back into a perimeter, Chaplain Watters noticed that several wounded soldiers were lying outside the newly formed perimeter. Without hesitation and ignoring attempts to restrain him, Chaplain Watters left the perimeter three times in the face of small arms, automatic weapons, and mortar fire to carry and to assist the injured troopers to safety. Satisfied that all of the wounded were inside the perimeter, he began aiding the medics--applying field bandages to open wounds, obtaining and serving food and water, giving spiritual and mental strength and comfort. During his ministering, he moved out to the perimeter from position to position redistributing food and water, and tending to the needs of his men. Chaplain Watters was giving aid to the wounded when he himself was mortally wounded. Chaplain Watters' unyielding perseverance and selfless devotion to his comrades was in keeping with the highest traditions of the U.S. Army.”
Chaplain (Captain) Angelo J. Liteky
Unit: 199th Infantry Brigade
Location & Date: Near Phuoc-Lac, Bien Hoa Province, Republic of Vietnam, December 6, 1967
Chaplain (Captain) Angelo J. Liteky of the 199th Infantry Brigade earned the Medal of Honor for his actions in Bien Hoa Province in Viet Nam on December 6, 1967. Moving under fire with disregard for his own safety, Liteky recovered numerous wounded men from exposed positions, directed medical evacuations, and inspired his fellow Soldiers with his courage and calm demeanor.
Citation: “Chaplain Liteky distinguished himself by exceptional heroism while serving with Company A, 4th Battalion, 12th Infantry, 199th Light Infantry Brigade. He was participating in a search and destroy operation when Company A came under intense fire from a battalion size enemy force. Momentarily stunned from the immediate encounter that ensued, the men hugged the ground for cover. Observing 2 wounded men, Chaplain Liteky moved to within 15 meters of an enemy machine gun position to reach them, placing himself between the enemy and the wounded men. When there was a brief respite in the fighting, he managed to drag them to the relative safety of the landing zone. Inspired by his courageous actions, the company rallied and began placing a heavy volume of fire upon the enemy's positions. In a magnificent display of courage and leadership, Chaplain Liteky began moving upright through the enemy fire, administering last rites to the dying and evacuating the wounded. Noticing another trapped and seriously wounded man, Chaplain Liteky crawled to his aid. Realizing that the wounded man was too heavy to carry, he rolled on his back, placed the man on his chest and through sheer determination and fortitude crawled back to the landing zone using his elbows and heels to push himself along. Pausing for breath momentarily, he returned to the action and came upon a man entangled in the dense, thorny underbrush. Once more intense enemy fire was directed at him, but Chaplain Liteky stood his ground and calmly broke the vines and carried the man to the landing zone for evacuation. On several occasions when the landing zone was under small arms and rocket fire, Chaplain Liteky stood up in the face of hostile fire and personally directed the medivac helicopters into and out of the area. With the wounded safely evacuated, Chaplain Liteky returned to the perimeter, constantly encouraging and inspiring the men. Upon the unit's relief on the morning of 7 December 1967, it was discovered that despite painful wounds in the neck and foot, Chaplain Liteky had personally carried over 20 men to the landing zone for evacuation during the savage fighting. Through his indomitable inspiration and heroic actions, Chaplain Liteky saved the lives of a number of his comrades and enabled the company to repulse the enemy. Chaplain Liteky's actions reflect great credit upon himself and were in keeping with the highest traditions of the U.S. Army.”
After his service in Vietnam, Liteky left both the Army and the Catholic priesthood and became a peace activist. In 1986, he renounced his Medal of Honor by leaving it in an envelope he placed at the Vietnam Veterans Memorial in Washington. The National Park Service recovered Liteky’s medal, and it is now on display at the National Museum of American History.