The Lesser Known Perks of the Medal of Honor are Better Than Being Knighted by the Queen
In the early going, knighthood was an honor earned by those who had distinguished themselves in battle in some significant way or otherwise had made themselves into an absolutely exceptional soldier through many years of training. Later, the honor became somewhat more exclusive, generally limited to nobility or those who were the children of knights, but still typically requiring extensive military training. In modern times of course, in places like the UK, knighthoods are typically granted for all manner of services to a nation, regardless of whether the person has any military training whatsoever. As for the U.S. Medal of Honor, first introduced in 1861, much like in the earliest days of knighthood, this is earned via some extremely heroic act done in aid of the U.S. military. But what do you actually get out of either of these things (or both, as it’s possible to both be knighted and receive a Medal of Honor)? And, if you only received one, which would be more beneficial to you post honor?
As we’ve covered before in great detail, it turns out getting knighted entitles you to just about nothing, other than getting to attend a special ceremony where you’re knighted and then afterwards you can adopt a title, such as “Sir”. That said, there are more intangible perks, such as a slightly higher profile, more impressive looking resume, potential invites to parties one would otherwise not have been, quicker seating at some exclusive restaurants, etc. But, on the whole, you officially get basically nothing.
This lack of official perks is in keeping with historical precedent, with the title of Knight throughout history being largely ceremonial in nature, especially in the United Kingdom. For example, as noted by the Royal Collection Trust, the title in ancient times didn’t confer any monetary benefit upon a person since anyone granted the title of Knight would, to quote them, “Be expected to have the financial ability to support the honour of knighthood, so that he could provide himself with arms, armour, horses and the required number of armed followers to render military service to his Sovereign for a minimum period each year.”
Thus, disappointingly, being knighted today by the Queen does not come with a fiefdom and peasants to work the land, nor any such tangible award- not even a badass custom forged sword or armor. Although, we do know of at least one case where an individual knighted, British author Sir Terry Pratchett, went ahead and had such a sword made to commemorate his knighthood and then lamented the laws of the land didn’t allow him to carry it around in his day to day life, despite him officially BEING a knight.
Perhaps because there is little incentive to accept other than the pure honor of it, a surprising number of people (reportedly about 2% in recent decades, including John Cleese and David Bowie) have refused knighthoods for various reasons. Although, what those reasons are aren’t typically publicly revealed, with exceptions like John Cleese who stated he felt he’d already received a much greater honor- having a lemur, Avahi cleesei, named after him.
In contrast, we could find only one instance of a Medal of Honor recipient requesting not to be considered for it- John J. Pershing. However, it didn’t matter because his letter requesting to stop the nomination process wasn’t received until after it was decided his actions weren’t quite worthy.
That said, there is one Medal of Honor recipient who would later publicly reject the honor, though still be awarded it- Army Chaplain Charlie Liteky. As to what he did to earn it, in 1967, his Medal of Honor citation states:
…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.
And we’ll also just throw in here that, as a priest, Liteky was not armed during any of this.
Liteky would later state of his days in the military, “I was 100 percent behind going over there and putting those Communists in their place. I had no problem with that. I thought I was going there doing God’s work.” However, after his time in the military, he became a pacifist and very public advocate for peaceful resolution of any conflicts. Ultimately in 1986, he gave up his medal as an act of political dissent against the U.S.’s activities in Central America, particularly the U.S. backing various military groups there.
As for the rest of the approximately 3500 recipients of the Medal of Honor, there has been no such other rejection, including from any of the over 800 non-U.S. citizens awarded this.
And note here, as alluded to, it’s perfectly possible for a UK citizen to be knighted and receive a U.S. Medal of Honor if they perform a sufficiently brave and heroic act while serving with the U.S. military. However, very unfortunately, we found and sifted through just shy of 300 UK born Medal of Honor recipients and couldn’t find a single one who was also knighted.
On the flip-side, the Queen may also give an honorary knighthood to a U.S. Medal of Honor recipient, but we couldn’t find any instance of this happening. And even if it did, an honorary knighthood does not allow the person to use the main perk of being knighted- the well known title. That said, they can potentially append the suffix of their rank in the particular Order they were appointed to if they want. But something like Bill Gates KBE doesn’t exactly have the same ring to it as Sir Bill Gates. (And, yes, both Bill Gates and his wife, Melinda, have been given an honorary knight and damehood. If either of them were to become citizens of the UK at some point, it is usual for such individuals to then be able to officially use their titles, with the knighthood no longer being considered honorary at that point.)
So that’s knighthood. What are the perks of earning the U.S. Medal of Honor? Well, they are many it turns out. We’ll start with arguably the most monetarily valuable, if how much you’d have to pay for the same from commercial airlines is any indication- free flights for life for you and your family (so long as you accompany them) basically anywhere in the world the U.S. military is flying.
This occurs via something known as the “Space A” program. In a nutshell, if there is space aboard a military plane flying somewhere, you can request to join the flight. As you might imagine, extra space on these flights can sometimes come at a premium, but if you happen to be a Medal of Honor recipient, not only is it free for life, but you’re bumped way up the priority queue from where you’d normally be for a given flight.
As we’ve previously covered, when airlines have offered similar “fly free forever” perk packages, they charged an arm and a leg for that sort of unlimited flight access. For example, in 1981 American Airlines sold these at $250,000 (about $641,000 today) per ticket, and then later up to $1.01 million (about $1.7 million today). Despite this, they were still losing money on the program so jacked the price up to $3 million per ticket (about $3.7 million today) before finally canceling the program and also trying where possible to revoke previously purchased lifetime passes if they could find any fine print to wiggle themselves out of the deal.
Moving on from the free flights, Medal of Honor recipients these days also get a boost of just shy of $1400 per month in their pay and pension. And not only this, but that boost starts on the day of the deed of the action that earned the person the Medal of Honor, even if it’s awarded many years later. This came up recently when Sergeant David Bellavia earned a Medal of Honor during the Second Battle of Fallujah in 2004. In a nutshell, his platoon were clearing a house when they became dangerously pinned down and with one enemy fighter about to shoot a rocket propelled grenade at them.
Rather than sit around and see his entire platoon wiped out, Bellavia decided to go Rambo on them, simply jumping up and running at the enemy gun ablazing. From there, he not only eliminated the immediate threat, but also single handedly cleared the rest of the house of five total enemy fighters, including one in a room filled with explosives, where he had to switch to hand to hand combat due to his concern about blowing up the place.
The actual Medal of Honor for these acts wasn’t granted until 2019- a full 15 years after the event. Thus, he was apparently entitled to well over $200,000 in back pay. Though due to official policy, the exact amount he was given here isn’t public information.
On the note of money, another financial perk is an additional 10% boost in retirement pay. On top of this, the Medal of Honor recipients also get special parking at various military installations, as well as access, even after retirement, at military Morale, Welfare, and Recreation facilities. These can include all manner of benefits, such as access to gyms, pools, financial counseling, etc. etc.
Moving on from there, Medal of Honor recipients also have the ability to wear their uniform any time they please (except for for certain political, commercial, or extremist action purposes). They also get a special uniform allowance stipend of $830.56, exemption from the co-pay on their health insurance, automatic invitations to presidential inaugurations and subsequent ball, among other events. They also take home a nice Medal of Honor Flag, and, in many states of the U.S., receive educational benefits for themselves and their family, as well as a special license plate for their car.
Further, should one or more of their children wish to enroll in a military academy, said child can bypass the normal quota restrictions and, so long as they are otherwise eligible, will be granted admission.
Finally, the Medal of Honor recipient gets a place in the Arlington National Cemetery for their remains, as well as a special gold lettered tombstone.
One last perk is not actually official, contrary to what is often said, but is nonetheless common- being saluted by other military personnel regardless of their rank, and even regardless of setting or whether the person is in uniform. So you could potentially have a 4 star General saluting a lowly sergeant standing in his boxers if the latter was a Medal of Honor recipient and the General felt so inclined.
Of course, depending on one’s personality, some of these intangible perks aren’t exactly always appreciated. For example, Medal of Honor recipient Col Barney Barnum states one of the downsides is, “You’re on parade all the time, and I tell you, there are times that [you’re] just gonna walk away from everybody because you get tired of being patted on the back.”
On the note of downsides, one issue of the Medal of Honor compared to how most earn knighthoods these days is that the very nature of the requirements to get a Medal of Honor tend to see about half of all recipients since the start of WWII receive theirs posthumously. So, unfortunately, they are not able to directly take advantage of the perks, though for some of the perks their families will at least.
Before we finish, we should also mention what happens if you earn more than one Medal of Honor, which 19 of the around 3,500 people who’ve received a Medal of Honor have done. Unfortunately for them, according to the Code of Federal Regulations, section 38 3.802 in part b, it states, “… a person awarded more than one Medal of Honor may not receive more than one special pension.”
Incidentally as another quick aside, there have been two father/son Medal of Honor recipients- one being Arthur and Douglas MacArthur; and, of course, as should come as a surprise to no one- the manliest man to ever man and one of the most amazing people in history, President Theodore Roosevelt, tacked on a Medal of Honor to his obscene number of accomplishments. Later, his son, Theodore Roosevelt Jr., also earned himself one.
But in the end, while there is something perhaps more Hollywood-cool about getting to tack “Sir”, “Dame”, or “Lady” onto your moniker instead of the optional and non-standardized “MOH” or “MH”, as with Medal of Honor recipients, at the end of the day, the perks of the U.S. Medal of Honor pretty definitively outweigh that of being knighted by the Queen in the UK. Accomplishing both, however, is entirely possible, but hasn’t yet happened.
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- Foreign U.S. Medal of Honor Recipients
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- U.S. Activity in Central America
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