On February 29, Navy SEAL Edward Byers received the Medal of Honor for his role in rescuing an American hostage from Taliban fighters in Afghanistan. President Obama presented the award and lauded Byers for his service. He is only the 11th living servicemember and sixth SEAL to receive the award.

Sen. James Grimes, a Republican from Iowa, sponsored legislation in 1861 to establish special military commendations, or medals of honor. Congress quickly passed the bill and President Abraham Lincoln signed it into law. The first Medal of Honor was awarded in 1863. Over 3,500 servicemembers have earned it since.

Byers is only the 18th servicemember to receive the award since 2001, a circumstance many in the armed forces find bothersome. Military officials believe brave veterans have been short-changed in recent years and given lesser commendations for actions deserving of the Medal of Honor. For its part, the Department of Defense attributes the drop in Medal of Honor awards to the changing state of warfare – more drones means fewer dangerous on-ground situations.

In any case, brave men like Byers deserve great respect for their service.