Since 1918, more than 100 U.S. pilots and crew have been awarded the Medal of Honor-the highest U.S. military decoration.
Though established by Congress in December 1861 from the U.S. Navy medal (the U.S. Army version was introduced in July 1862), it is improperly known as the "Congressional Medal of Honor." Remarkably, it also seems the criteria for which it is awarded change almost every time it's presented.
The Distinguished Flying Cross was authorized on July 26, 1926 and was awarded to members of the Armed Forces who distinguished themselves by heroism or extraordinary achievement while participating in aerial fight. Amelia Earhard was given the award in 1926 prior to a 1927 ruling that the award be given to military personnel only.
The Air Medal was established on May 11, 1942. It is awarded for meritorious achievement while participating in aerial flight of a combat or non-combat nature. Of the two aviation medals the Distinguished Flying Cross is the more difficult to qualify for.
The forerunners of modern combat decorations were gold and silver medals. The Continental Congress awarded these to commanders of the Revolutionary War. The first such medal, struck in gold, was awarded to Captain John Paul Jones. Other medals have commemorated:
- The War with Mexico
- The Civil War
- Battles at sea
- Vietnam veterans
- The Persian Gulf National Medal
- Those missing in action
- The 200th anniversaries of the U.S. Army, Navy, Marine Corps, and Coast Guard
Charles A. Lindbergh was awarded a Congressional gold medal in 1928 for his historic flight from New York to Paris. Those honored in subsequent years include:
- Robert H. Goddard (for research on rockets and jet propulsion)
- General Charles E. "Chuck" Yeager (first to fly faster than the speed of sound)
- Lieutenant General Ira C. Eaker (aviation leadership and service)
- Ben Abruzzo, Maxie Anderson, and Larry Newman (first successful trans-Atlantic balloon)