Special Report

50 of the Most Decorated War Heroes in American History

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There is no greater service to the nation than giving one’s life for one’s country. President Abraham Lincoln movingly referred to sacrifice of Union soldiers in his Gettysburg Address in 1863 as the “last full measure of devotion.” The United States honors military heroes on holidays including Memorial Day, Independence Day, and Veterans Day at events across the country, which have particular resonance in America’s military cities.

Where Memorial Day — which honors those killed in the line of duty — was once observed with introspection and solemnity, and Veterans Day pays tribute to the military service men and women who have died or are alive, on Independence Day people go to beaches or lakes or host barbecues. The day is capped off by watching a fireworks display, a common feature in the grandest military parades in history.

Some Americans, though, pause their celebration to remember a loved one who passed in the service of the nation or is presently on duty protecting our freedom and liberty at one of America’s largest military bases around the world.

24/7 Tempo pays tribute to some of the most decorated war heroes in our nation’s history. We created our list from information obtained from sources such as the Department of Defense.

Click here to see the most decorated war heroes
Click here to see our detailed findings and methodology

1. Alvin York
> Rank: Corporal
> Military branch: Army
> Served in: WWI
> Medal(s) of valor: Medal of Honor, Distinguished Service Cross

York was a pacifist who took command of troops when senior officers were killed or put out of action. He proceeded to kill 28 Germans and captured 132 others.

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2. Audie L. Murphy
> Rank: Second lieutenant
> Military branch: Army
> Served in: WWII
> Medal(s) of valor: Medal of Honor, Distinguished Service Cross, Silver Star

Murphy is the most decorated American soldier of World War II. Murphy, who saw combat in Italy and France, is credited with killing 240 German soldiers. He would go on to star in a movie about his life.

3. Daniel J. Daly
> Rank: Gunnery sergeant
> Military branch: Marines
> Served in: WWI
> Medal(s) of valor: Medal of Honor, Navy Cross, Distinguished Service Cross

One of 19 servicemen to be awarded the Medal of Honor twice, Daly was awarded his second medal for leading U.S. soldiers against Germans in World War I.

4. David McCampbell
> Rank: Commander
> Military branch: Navy
> Served in: WWII
> Medal(s) of valor: Medal of Honor, Navy Cross, Silver Star

McCampbell shot down 34 Japanese planes, engaging the enemy many times despite overwhelming odds. On Oct. 24, 1944, he shot down nine planes in 95 minutes.

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5. Desmond Doss
> Rank: Corporal
> Military branch: Army
> Served in: WWII
> Medal(s) of valor: Medal of Honor

Doss, who was enlisted though he was a conscientious objector, was a medic in the Pacific theater of WWII. He received the Medal of Honor for saving lives while he was wounded during the fighting on Okinawa.

6. Douglas MacArthur
> Rank: General
> Military branch: Army
> Served in: WWI, WWII, Korean War
> Medal(s) of valor: Medal of Honor, Distinguished Service Cross, Silver Star

MacArthur led the United States to victory in the Pacific theater of WWII. He also led U.N. troops during the Korean War.

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7. Edward V. Rickenbacker
> Rank: First lieutenant
> Military branch: Army
> Served in: WWI
> Medal(s) of valor: Medal of Honor, Distinguished Service Cross

Rickenbacker was America’s greatest flying ace during World War I. He earned the Medal of Honor for attacking a formation of five German planes and downing two of them.

8. Eugene B. Fluckey
> Rank: Commander
> Military branch: Navy
> Served in: WWII
> Medal(s) of valor: Medal of Honor, Navy Cross

One of the most daring submarine commanders of World War II, Fluckey found 30 Japanese vessels hiding in a harbor and damaged six of them in early 1945. His submarine managed to evade Japanese patrol boats and escape.

9. Frank Luke, Jr.
> Rank: Second lieutenant
> Military branch: Army
> Served in: WWI
> Medal(s) of valor: Medal of Honor, Distinguished Service Cross

Luke, one of America’s greatest fighter aces in World War I, was awarded the Medal of Honor posthumously.

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10. George A. Davis
> Rank: Major
> Military branch: Army/Air Force
> Served in: WWII, Korean War
> Medal(s) of valor: Medal of Honor, Distinguished Service Cross, Silver Star

Davis was posthumously awarded the Medal of Honor for risking and ultimately losing his life During the Korean War. Davis shot down two enemy MiG fighter jets and pursued a third, despite obvious peril, in February, 1952.

11. George E. Day
> Rank: Colonel
> Military branch: Air Force/Army/Marines
> Served in: WWII, Korean War, Vietnam War
> Medal(s) of valor: Medal of Honor, Air Force Cross, Silver Star

Day, who fought in World War II and Korea, received the Medal of Honor for enduring hardship during this captivity in North Vietnam, where he was captured twice and held as a POW for over five years.

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12. George L. Mabry, Jr.
> Rank: Lieutenant colonel
> Military branch: Army
> Served in: WWII
> Medal(s) of valor: Medal of Honor, Distinguished Service Cross, Silver Star

Mabry was acknowledged for bravery during an attack in November 1944 in the Huertgen Forest in Germany. He cleared a minefield and captured three German bunkers, killing three German soldiers and capturing nine others.

13. Gordon Johnston
> Rank: First lieutenant
> Military branch: Army
> Served in: WWI
> Medal(s) of valor: Medal of Honor, Distinguished Service Cross, Silver Star

Johnston won the Medal of Honor fighting Morro rebels in the Philippines in 1906. He later served with the Army in France in World War I.

14. Henry L. Hulbert
> Rank: First lieutenant
> Military branch: Marines
> Served in: WWI
> Medal(s) of valor: Medal of Honor, Navy Cross, Distinguished Service Cross

After he was cited for heroism in the Philippines and Samoa, Hulbert went on to serve in World War I, where he was wounded.

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15. Herman H. Hanneken
> Rank: Second lieutenant
> Military branch: Marines
> Served in: Banana Wars, WWI, WWII
> Medal(s) of valor: Medal of Honor, Navy Cross, Silver Star

Hanneken won the Medal of Honor for subduing rebels in Haiti in 1919. He was also awarded the Silver Star for gallantry fighting on Guadalcanal in World War II.

16. Howard W. Gilmore
> Rank: Commander
> Military branch: Navy
> Served in: WWII
> Medal(s) of valor: Medal of Honor, Navy Cross

Gilmore was the first submariner to receive the Medal of Honor in World War II. He received the award posthumously for fighting Japanese vessels in South Pacific.

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17. Jack L. Treadwell
> Rank: Captain
> Military branch: Army
> Served in: WWII, Vietnam War
> Medal(s) of valor: Medal of Honor, Distinguished Service Cross, Silver Star

Treadwell subdued six pillboxes and captured 18 German prisoners at the fortified Siegfried Line in Germany in March 1945.

18. James B. Stockdale
> Rank: Rear admiral
> Military branch: Navy
> Served in: Vietnam War
> Medal(s) of valor: Medal of Honor, Silver Star

After being shot down over Hanoi in 1965, Stockdale spent eight years in a Vietnamese POW camp, and consistently exhibited bravery, even when subjected to torture. For his sacrifice, he was awarded the Medal of Honor by President Gerald Ford in 1976.

19. James E. Williams
> Rank: Boatswain’s mate first class
> Military branch: Navy
> Served in: Korean War, Vietnam War
> Medal(s) of valor: Medal of Honor, Navy Cross, Silver Star

Williams was the most decorated enlisted man in the history of the Navy. On Oct. 31, 1966, two U.S. patrol boats were searching for Viet Cong when they encountered a fleet of enemy sampans, or small boats. In the ensuring fight, Williams led the attack that eventually destroyed more than 65 enemy boats.

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20. James H. Doolittle
> Rank: General
> Military branch: Army
> Served in: WWII
> Medal(s) of valor: Medal of Honor, Silver Star

Doolittle lifted America’s morale after the devastating attack on Pearl Harbor by leading a daring raid on Tokyo in April 1942. He was awarded the Medal of Honor.

21. James L. Day
> Rank: Corporal
> Military branch: Marines
> Served in: WWII, Korean War, Vietnam War
> Medal(s) of valor: Medal of Honor, Silver Star

During the battle for Okinawa, Day repulsed several Japanese assaults almost single-handedly. He also brought the wounded to safety and then returned to fight. Reports said that when he was relieved after fighting for three days, the enemy dead around his foxhole totaled over 100.

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22. Joe R. Hooper
> Rank: Sergeant
> Military branch: Army/Navy
> Served in: Vietnam War
> Medal(s) of valor: Medal of Honor, Silver Star

Hooper received the of Honor for heroism and bravery in the Vietnam War. In February 1968, under heavy fire, he single-handedly stormed multiple enemy controlled bunkers, using grenades, a pistol, a rifle, and a bayonet and pressing on despite sustaining serious bodily injury.

23. Joel T. Boone
> Rank: Lieutenant
> Military branch: Navy
> Served in: WWI, WWII, Korean War
> Medal(s) of valor: Medal of Honor, Distinguished Service Cross, Silver Star

Boone was awarded the Medal of Honor for heroism in World War I. Serving as a surgeon with the U.S. Marines in France, Boone, under heavy enemy fire, risked his life multiple times in a single day by venturing into a field to rescue wounded American soldiers and replenish medical supplies.

24. John C. McCloy
> Rank: Lieutenant commander
> Military branch: Navy
> Served in: Boxer Rebellion, Battle of Veracruz
> Medal(s) of valor: Medal of Honor, Navy Cross

McCloy was awarded two Medals of Honor for heroism during the Boxer Rebellion in China in 1901, and at the Battle of Veracruz in 1914.

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25. John D. Bulkeley
> Rank: Lieutenant commander
> Military branch: Navy
> Served in: WWII
> Medal(s) of valor: Medal of Honor, Distinguished Service Cross, Navy Cross, Silver Star

Bulkeley, a patrol boat commander, helped Gen. Douglas MacArthur escape the Philippines ahead of the Japanese invaders.

26. John H. Pruitt
> Rank: Corporal
> Military branch: Marines
> Served in: WWI
> Medal(s) of valor: Medal of Honor, Silver Star

Pruitt single-handedly captured two machine-guns, killed two German soldiers, and then captured 40 Germans that were in a dugout. He was killed later in the engagement and received the Medal of Honor posthumously.

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27. John H. Quick
> Rank: Sergeant major
> Military branch: Marines
> Served in: WWI
> Medal(s) of valor: Medal of Honor, Distinguished Service Cross, Navy Cross

Quick saw action in France in major U.S. offensives of World War I, including Belleau Wood and St. Mihiel. Quick also served with the Marines during the Spanish-American War when he won the Medal of Honor.

28. Jonas H. Ingram
> Rank: Admiral
> Military branch: Navy
> Served in: Mexican Revolution, WWI, WWII
> Medal(s) of valor: Medal of Honor, Navy Cross

Ingram received the Medal of Honor for his adroit direction of artillery during the Battle of Veracruz in 1914 that led to the capture of the city. He would also go on to fight in World War I and World War II.

29. Kenneth A. Walsh
> Rank: First lieutenant
> Military branch: Marines
> Served in: WWII, Korean War
> Medal(s) of valor: Medal of Honor

Against overwhelming forces, Walsh fought off Japanese planes attempting to bomb Allied ground forces operating in the Solomon Islands area.

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30. Lawson P. Ramage
> Rank: Commander
> Military branch: Navy
> Served in: WWII
> Medal(s) of valor: Medal of Honor, Navy Cross, Silver Star

Ramage was the third submarine commander to win the Medal of Honor for his role in damaging a Japanese convoy near Taiwan in 1944.

31. Leo K. Thorsness
> Rank: Colonel
> Military branch: Air Force
> Served in: Vietnam War
> Medal(s) of valor: Medal of Honor, Silver Star

Thorsness was awarded the Medal of Honor for valor in action in a dogfight over North Vietnam. Thorsness was captured and held in the same prison as John McCain for six years.

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32. Leon W. Johnson
> Rank: General
> Military branch: Army/Air Force
> Served in: WWII
> Medal(s) of valor: Medal of Honor, Silver Star

Johnson led bombers on a dangerous raid of the Ploesti oil fields in Romania in World War II. For his part in this mission, he was awarded the Medal of Honor.

33. Lewis L. Millett
> Rank: Captain
> Military branch: Army
> Served in: WWII, Korean War, Vietnam War
> Medal(s) of valor: Medal of Honor, Distinguished Service Cross, Silver Star

Millett led a bayonet charge against a fortified North Korean position, stabbing two soldiers and throwing grenades at enemy positions. He was wounded but refused to leave the battle until the position was taken.

34. Lloyd L. Burke
> Rank: First lieutenant
> Military branch: Army
> Served in: WWII, Korean War, Vietnam War
> Medal(s) of valor: Medal of Honor, Distinguished Service Cross, Silver Star

Burke won the Medal of Honor for an attack on North Korean bunkers in 1951, killing 100 North Koreans while receiving wounds.

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35. Louis Cukela
> Rank: Sergeant
> Military branch: Marines
> Served in: WWI
> Medal(s) of valor: Medal of Honor, Silver Star

Cukela earned his Medal of Honor for subduing a machine-gun nest by killing or driving off the soldiers with his bayonet. He destroyed another German stronghold with hand grenades and captured four Germans.

36. Matej Kocak
> Rank: Sergeant
> Military branch: Marines
> Served in: WWI
> Medal(s) of valor: Medal of Honor, Silver Star

Kocak put two German machine-gun nests out of action in 1918. Kocak would later be killed in another battle toward the end of World War I.

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37. Matt L. Urban
> Rank: Captain
> Military branch: Army
> Served in: WWII
> Medal(s) of valor: Medal of Honor, Silver Star

Urban finally received the Medal of Honor in 1980 after a long-lost recommendation had been found. Urban was cited for bravery during the Normandy campaign in 1944. He received the Purple Heart seven times.

38. Melvin Morris
> Rank: Sergeant
> Military branch: Army
> Served in: Vietnam War
> Medal(s) of valor: Medal of Honor, Distinguished Service Cross

Morris was cited for eliminating North Vietnamese positions with hand grenades and destroying four bunkers. He also recovered bodies of fallen comrades and helped wounded soldiers back to U.S. lines.

39. Merritt A. Edson
> Rank: Colonel
> Military branch: Marines
> Served in: WWII
> Medal(s) of valor: Medal of Honor, Navy Cross, Silver Star

Edson was honored for his defense of Lunga Ridge near a key airfield on Guadalcanal in 1942.

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40. Neel E. Kearby
> Rank: Colonel
> Military branch: Army
> Served in: WWII
> Medal(s) of valor: Medal of Honor, Silver Star

Kearby was an aggressive fighter pilot who frequently took on superior enemy numbers. On Oct. 11, 1943, he and three other pilots went against nearly 50 Japanese aircraft. Kearby shot down six Japanese aircraft and received the Medal of Honor. He would be killed in action the following year.

41. Patrick H. Brady
> Rank: Major
> Military branch: Army
> Served in: Vietnam War
> Medal(s) of valor: Medal of Honor, Distinguished Service Cross

Brady earned the Medal of Honor for flying an ambulance helicopter into heavily contested battle zones during the Vietnam War and — under heavy enemy fire — rescuing dozens of injured American servicemen in a single day.

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42. Raymond G. Davis
> Rank: Lieutenant colonel
> Military branch: Marines
> Served in: WWII, Korean War, Vietnam War
> Medal(s) of valor: Medal of Honor, Navy Cross, Silver Star

Davis rescued several Marines despite being surrounded by numerically superior hostile forces in Korea in icy, mountainous conditions.

43. Raymond Harvey
> Rank: Captain
> Military branch: Army
> Served in: WWII, Korean War
> Medal(s) of valor: Medal of Honor, Distinguished Service Cross, Silver Star

Harvey won his Medal of Honor by disabling machine-gun nests and pillboxes despite being wounded during the fighting. He refused to leave the battle until the mission was completed.

44. Richard H. O’Kane
> Rank: Commander
> Military branch: Navy
> Served in: WWII
> Medal(s) of valor: Medal of Honor, Navy Cross, Silver Star

The submarine commander was awarded the Medal of Honor for valor for his actions in the Pacific theater during World War II. He regularly sank Japanese vessels and rescued Americans who had been shot down.

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45. Richard I. Bong
> Rank: Major
> Military branch: Army
> Served in: WWII
> Medal(s) of valor: Medal of Honor, Distinguished Service Cross, Silver Star

Bong was the most prolific American fighter pilot in World War II, downing 40 Japanese planes. Gen. Douglas MacArthur awarded him the Medal of Honor, calling him the “bravest of the brave.”

46. Robert L. Howard
> Rank: Captain
> Military branch: Army
> Served in: Vietnam War
> Medal(s) of valor: Medal of Honor, Distinguished Service Cross, Silver Star

Howard was nominated for the Medal of Honor three times and won it for rescuing a wounded platoon leader in Vietnam.

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47. Samuel D. Dealey
> Rank: Commander
> Military branch: Navy
> Served in: WWII
> Medal(s) of valor: Medal of Honor, Navy Cross, Distinguished Service Cross, Silver Star

Dealey was a submarine commander who sank the most Japanese tonnage, or merchant ships, during World War II before he was killed in action in 1944.

48. Smedley D. Butler
> Rank: Major
> Military branch: Marines
> Served in: WWI
> Medal(s) of valor: Medal of Honor

Butler was the most decorated Marine in U.S. history when he died in 1940. He won the first of his two Medals of Honor at the Battle of Veracruz in 1914 and was awarded his second during the U.S. involvement in Haiti in 1915.

49. Thomas B. McGuire, Jr.
> Rank: Major
> Military branch: Army
> Served in: WWII
> Medal(s) of valor: Medal of Honor, Distinguished Service Cross, Silver Star

McGuire shot down 38 Japanese planes during World War II, the second highest scoring U.S. ace of the war. He himself was killed over the Philippines and given the Medal of Honor posthumously.

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50. William J. Donovan
> Rank: Colonel
> Military branch: Army
> Served in: WWI, WWII
> Medal(s) of valor: Medal of Honor, Distinguished Service Cross, Silver Star

Founder of the Office of Strategic Services, the forerunner of the CIA, Donovan received the Medal of Honor for bravery at the Second Battle of the Marne in 1918 in World War I.

Detailed Findings

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, from 0.5% in 2009. As the size of the military shrinks, the connections between it and the civilian population have become more removed. Even so, service members continue their commitment to service when they leave the military by contributing their time to build their communities.

Many of the war heroes on the 24/7 Tempo list who distinguished themselves include names familiar to Americans, such as Alvin York, Audie Murphy, James Doolittle, and Douglas MacArthur. All are among the roughly 3,500 Americans who have been awarded the Medal of Honor.

Methodology

To determine the list of some of the most decorated military service members, 24/7 Tempo 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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