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Those Who Have Won The Medal

Jerry Damman talks about his son Steven Damman who disappeared from outside a Long Island, New York, bakery more than 50 years ago, Tuesday, June 16, 2009, on his farm near Newton, Iowa. A Michigan man has come forward to claim that he was the missing boy, authorities said Tuesday. (AP Photo/Charlie Neibergall)
AP Photo/Charlie Neibergall
Of the millions of Americans who have gone to war for their country, only about 3,000 have received the Congressional Medal Of Honor, the highest U.S. military decoration, since it was first created by President Lincoln.

While recipients' specific acts of bravery have been documented by historians, little is known about them as individuals. A new book, "Medal Of Honor: Profiles Of America's Military Heroes From The Civil War To The Present," seeks to give a face to some of the honorees.

Allen Mikaelian is the author, and 60 Minutes Correspondent Mike Wallace offers commentary throughout the book. They both visited The Early Show to talk about it.

"It's always difficult to find a running theme across so many types of people in different eras," says Mikaelian. "But, in general, what you see in all 11 of these people is an incredible humility, something you might not expect from someone who has received the highest honor in the country.

"But when you read interviews with them," he continues, "they always emphasize that they were one person among a great many. They prefer to talk about the people who didn't make it out, or those who saved their lives. They feel like they did their duty, and they just want to get on with their lives."

Chapter One profiles Dr. Mary Edwards Walker, a Civil War surgeon, who was the only woman to receive the honor. She is also one of the more controversial Medal of Honor recipients: she was a suffragist, and an early feminist who wore pants, wouldn't change her name upon marriage, and attended medical school -- all very rare for the 19th century.

"Each person I wrote about is sort of close to my heart in a different way," Mikaelian explains. "The person I'd most like to have met is David Shoup of the Marine Corps (WWII). He ended up being a commandant and served under Kennedy. He was in the Joint Chiefs of Staff during the Bay of Pigs and other huge events in the Cold War."

David M. Shoup is in Chapter Five. His Medal of Honor citation: "Col. Shoup fearlessly exposed himself to the he terrific and relentless artillery, machinegun, and rifle fire from hostile shore emplacements. Rallying his hesitant troops by his own inspiring heroism, he gallantly led them across the fringing reefs to charge the heavily fortified island and reinforce our hard-pressed, thinly held lines."

"I'm also thinking, I would have really also liked to have met Sam Woodfill, who was a WWI veteran," continues Mikaelian. "He seems like one of the most earnest and humble men you could ever come across. He never got much education, and spent most of his life in the Army, but was a really softspoken, gentle and humble man."

"Mike (Wallace) was selected for an award named after Tex McCrary who was a veteran with the 8th air force in WWII. Mike received an award from the Medal of Honor Society for unbiased reporting on wars, and that's where his interest came from. At the gatherings of recipients, having very informal conversations with these men, he developed an interest." Mikaelian explains.