Mitch Frank
August 02, 1996 AT 04:00 AM EDT

Q In Courage Under Fire, Lieut. Col. Nat Serling (Denzel Washington) investigates whether Capt. Karen Walden (Meg Ryan) should be the first female recipient of the Medal of Honor for valor in combat. Is it true no woman has ever received it?

A The key words here are in combat. It’s true — no woman in the military has been given the medal, which is awarded for valor in combat. But according to Paul Bucha, president of the Congressional Medal of Honor Society, a civilian woman, Dr. Mary Walker, was given the decoration during the Civil War for aiding the Union Army as a battlefield surgeon. ”Historically, the medal has been for combat,” notes Bucha, ”but there have been special medals for bravery.”

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