Special Report

50 of America's Greatest War Heroes

Detailed Findings & Methodology

The holiday originated in 1868, when Gen. John A. Logan, an organizer of Union Army veterans, called for a national day of remembrance. May 30 was chosen because it was not the anniversary of any particular battle.

Since that time, recognition of the nation’s fallen has extended to all branches of the U.S. military, and each branch has specific medals that honor the bravery of its service member.

Memorial Day used to be a more solemn occasion, as Americans attended parades and went to cemetaries to remember those who had passed. It is now regarded as the unofficial start to summer, with stores running sales, and people going to baseball games, heading to the beach, or hosting barbecues.

Over time, there has been a loosening of the connection between American society and the military. Pew Research Center said in 2015 that the share of Americans serving in the military had declined to 0.4% of the population. As the size of the military shrinks, the connections between it and the civilian population become more removed.

Many of those on the 24/7 Wall St. list who distinguished themselves include names familiar to Americans, such as Alvin York, Audie Murphy, James Doolittle, and Douglas MacArthur. All are among the approximately 3,500 Americans who were awarded the Medal of Honor.

Many U.S. service members have also been honored by other nations for their heroism, such as America’s greatest aviator in World War I, Eddie Rickenbacker.

Although she did not make the list, it is worth mentioning the heroism of service member Annie G. Fox. During the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor, First Lieutenant Fox, an Army nurse, distinguished herself by cooly organizing the hospital’s response to the mounting casualties from the Japanese attack. For her courageous efforts, Fox was awarded the Bronze Star.

To determine the list of some of the most decorated military service members, 24/7 Wall St. reviewed government lists of medal winners and other online sources and placed emphasis on medals of valor. All of the service members listed won the Medal of Honor, the highest award the nation can bestow on a member of any branch of the military. Nearly 3,500 Medals of Honor have been given to military personnel, with more than 600 given posthumously. Many of those on this list were also awarded the Distinguished Service Cross, the nation’s second-highest honor. We considered those who served in conflicts after the Civil War because many military awards at that time were bestowed for political reasons. We excluded foreign medals from the list since they were awarded for the same acts of heroism.

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