Malcolm Gladwell's New Podcast 'Medal of Honor: Stories of Courage' Explores the True Nature of Sacrifice

From Pushkin Industries and iHeartPodcasts, Malcolm Gladwell's "Medal of Honor: Stories of Courage" premieres June 26, 2024. (Pushkin Industries)

Every story needs a hero, and few stories are as heroic as Medal of Honor citations. The Medal of Honor is the highest award the U.S. military can bestow, and even being nominated for one requires "conspicuous gallantry and intrepidity at the risk of life above and beyond the call of duty." Of the more than 3,500 medals awarded, nearly 20% were awarded posthumously.

Many Medal of Honor citations -- the stories that explain what the recipient did to receive the award -- read like blockbuster movies, bestselling books or binge-worthy TV shows. It's not hard to figure out why. In the face of overwhelming odds, a hero suddenly does something so brave, unexpected or outright superhuman, that they save their friends, their unit or change the outcome of a battle – sometimes sacrificing their lives in the process.

Journalist Malcolm Gladwell, author of "The Tipping Point" and "The Bomber Mafia" and creator of the "Revisionist History" podcast, is launching a new podcast about these stories. "Medal of Honor: Stories of Courage" will not only retell the stories of Medal of Honor recipients, but will also explore what it is that makes a hero, why people put their lives in danger for others, what human beings are capable of, and the true nature of sacrifice.

During World War I, Private Henry Johnson was wounded 21 times while defending a wounded comrade by fighting off an overwhelming enemy force with just his bolo knife. In World War II, Douglas Munro was killed while using himself and his Higgins boat as a shield so landing craft could save three companies of Marines from being overrun by Japanese troops. After four hours of fighting outnumbered 30-to-1, Mike Thornton rushed into a North Vietnamese ambush to rescue a fallen soldier, then carried him and another man to safety in the sea, swimming for another three hours.

These are just three stories among the thousands of Medals of Honor awarded since its inception in 1861. Johnson would not receive the medal until 2015, but he would be one of the first American soldiers in World War I to receive the French Croix de Guerre. Munro's actions at Guadalcanal would make him the first and only member of the Coast Guard to receive the Medal of Honor. The man Thornton rushed back into the jungle to save, Thomas Norris, would receive the Medal of Honor himself for a rescue mission he'd conducted earlier that same year.

"We tell stories about heroes because of a simple fact about the human mind: Courage is contagious," Gladwell said in a statement. "And when you hear about someone doing something heroic, it makes you want to be a hero too. And these days, we could use more heroes."

Along with the full stories of Johnson, Munro and Thornton, the first season of Gladwell's new series will be nine weeks long and profile Alwyn Cashe (Iraq War), Mary Walker (Civil War), Tibor Rubin (World War II), Jay R. Vargas (Vietnam War), Robert Bush (World War II) and John Chapman (Afghanistan War).

"Medal of Honor: Stories of Courage," from Malcolm Gladwell and Pushkin Industries, is distributed by iHeartPodcasts. New episodes will be released each Wednesday starting June 26, 2024, on the iHeartRadio app and everywhere podcasts are available.

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