CORRECTION: This article was updated at 8:30 a.m. Monday, Feb. 24, 2020, to correct an error. Gen. George Patton did not participate in the initial invasion of Normandy in World War II.
More than 3,500 people received the Medal of Honor throughout the award's 157-year history of recognizing people who acted with valor. However, influential members of U.S. military history remain who never received the prestigious award, among them one of America's most storied generals.
The medal often goes to the soldier who was most visible or who survived important moments in history, said Edward Nevgloski, director of Marine Corps history. Awardees will often say they were only one person among many acting bravely on the given day, he said.
"Essentially, the president and the country is bestowing an honor, not just on the individual but in many times [for] heroism that was displayed by more than just that individual," Nevgloski said.
Gen. George Patton, who served in both World Wars— famously commanding the U.S. Seventh Army in the Mediterranean theater of World War II and later the U.S. Third Army in France and Germany after the invasion of Normandy — never received a Medal of Honor. Patton is one of the few household names in the American military world not to have a Medal of Honor, said Derek Frisby, Marines veteran and Middle Tennessee State University associate professor in global studies. Instead, the general received the second-highest military award, the Distinguished Service Cross.
Frisby also pointed to Lt. Gen. Lewis Burwell Puller, nicknamed "Chesty" for all his awards, as another important historical figure without a Medal of Honor. Puller served in the Banana Wars, World War II and the Korean War, and was awarded five Navy Crosses and one Distinguished Service Cross.
"Chesty Puller is always one of those people that always, with five Navy Crosses, what did he really have to do to receive a Medal of Honor?" Frisby said. "I wouldn't want to see a review and award to him simply because people had more respect for him and whatever else. You would have to prove there wasn't enough information at the time the decision was made or a bias."
However, many in the military respect the guidelines and process for choosing the medal recipients, Nevgloski said. Not receiving an award should not be seen as a slight on someone's service.
Contact Wyatt Massey at email@example.com or 423-757-6249. Follow him on Twitter @news4mass.
McMinnville, Tennessee, Medal of Honor recipient killed while saving another man's life in Vietnam War