Secretary of Defense William Cohen, presented the award to Thurmond, who last month became the longest serving senator in history,in a full-fledged military honors ceremony.
In labeling Thurmond the armed service's "guardian angel," Cohen said "No American has done more for America's security than Sen. Strom Thurmond." He said Thurmond has spent his legislative career as an advocate for the military and a strong national defense.
Thurmond has served on the Senate Armed Forces Committee since 1959. He now chairs it. The 94-year-old senator fought in World War II and retired from the Army Reserve as a major general.
Thurmond complained that many people do not understand that a strong defense is necessary to keep the peace.
"I will view this medal as a reminder that we must never, never, give up the fight for our military," he said. "I hope they know that we appreciate all that they do for this nation."