US Military Medals And Decorations
The Roman Legions awarded the first Legionnaire over the wall a laurel of oak leaves which was later changed to a gold button. Napoleon rewarded his bravest soldiers the Legion of Honor, which became an enduring symbol of excellence in France to this day.
During our revolution, we refuted all things such as medals that were attached to the King. Only a few individual medals were struck to honor General Washington and other key leaders. However, in 1782, General Washington proclaimed the Order of Military Merit for both bravery and meritorious service. After the Army disbanded, it fell into disuse until brought back by General Douglas MacArthur in 1932 as the Purple Heart.
The Civil War saw the introduction of the first medals of honor for the Army and Navy. The South really had no medals until the Southern Cross of Honor was established after the war. The Confederate Congress approved an act on 13 October 1862 to honor the officers, non-commissioned officers and privates for their valor in the armies of the Confederate States. During the war, however, there were shortages of metals, and many medals were not minted or awarded. The names of these soldiers were, however, recorded in an Honor Roll and preserved in the Adjutant Inspector General's records.
The Southern Cross of Honor was conceived in July of 1898. The design consists of a cross with a Confederate battle flag surrounded with a laurel wreath on the face of the medal, with the inscription "The Southern Cross of Honor." On the back of the medal is the motto of the Confederate States of America, "Deo Vindice" (God Our Vindicator), the dates 1861 1865, and the inscription, "From the UDC to the UCV." (UDC stands for the United Daughters of the Confederacy and UCV stands for the United Confederate Veterans.) Applications were made by veterans and their families and descendants for the medal. The UDC reports that 12,500 crosses were ordered and awarded within the first eighteen months of their existence, and that 78,761 had been delivered by the UDC by the year 1913.
After the Spanish American War, President Roosevelt, an ardent supporter of the military, decided to create medals for all conflicts from the Civil War to the Spanish American War. He began our country's policy of awarding campaign or service medals for each veteran who participated.
World War I saw the first Victory Medal and the use of devices such as stars, oak leafs and bars to denote additional awards or campaigns. New decorations were added to maintain the prestige of the Medal of Honor. World War II saw the award system expand to provide a wider degree of decorations for valor and merit and more service medals to signify campaigns in Europe, Asia and the Americas.
Korea saw the introduction of both a National Defense medal and a United Nations Service Medal. The Vietnam conflict saw U.S. troops receive a foreign service medal and the policy of accepting foreign service or campaign medals carried on to the Liberation of Kuwait in the 90's.
Today, there are two categories of military medals: decorations and medals. Decorations are awarded for valor or meritorious service. They are traditionally in the shape of a star, cross, hexagon or similar heraldic design. Although a few decorations are round, the circular shape is used almost exclusively for service medals. These medals are awarded for good conduct, participation in a particular campaign or expedition.
There are 4 official forms of a military medal ... the 3 basic methods for wearing medals are Full Size, Miniature Medals on formal dress and Ribbon Bars. An Enamel Lapel Pin is worn on civilian suits and many Veterans use the enamel hat pin on their hats.
Small metal devices are worn on the ribbon bar or medal suspension ribbon to denote additional awards, campaigns or service. These attachments come in the form of stars, oak leaf clusters, numerals or arrowheads. Each service has different devices and manner of attachments. A maximum of four devices may be worn on any single ribbon.
This is a special class of honors that comes as a ribbon only award since there is no medal associated with it. The first such awards were the Presidential Unit Citations established by the Army and Navy in World War II as a reward to units/ships cited for collective battle honors and as visual recognition to the individuals serving in these units or ships. All the services now have several ribbon-only awards for specific purposes (i.e., Recruiting Duty, etc.). Beginning in World War I, the United States relaxed it's rule on military personnel receiving Foreign Medals. Since World War II, many foreign services medals have been authorized.
Commemorative medals are just that. They are struck to commemorate a specific event or for a specific purpose. The 50th anniversary of World War II Commemorative Medal honors World War II veterans. The Korean War Service Commemorative not only honors Korean Veterans, but is struck in the form of the actual Korean War Service Medal offered by the Korean Government to U.S. troops, but refused by the War Department. Commemorative medals are not issued by the government and are not authorized on official military uniforms, but can be worn on civilian and organizational clothing.
Finally, there are skill badges: marksmanship medals, ribbons and badges which denote various levels of skill. The Navy and Coast Guard use marksmanship medals, the Army and Marines use badges and the Air Force uses a ribbon. Many military medals are by famous artists such as James Earl Frazier, Francis Millet and Paul Manship. Others are by the U.S. Mint or the Institute of Heraldry. These beautiful medals are more than our nation's grateful acknowledgment of fidelity. They recall the men and women, events, deeds and circumstances which forged our great country.
The Pentagon is launching a major review of its military awards and decorations manual, to update the awards process to match the global nature of the current war on terror and to ensure that each service is handing out the same medals for the same reasons, service officials said Monday. "The evolving nature of warfare demands that we review policies," David Chu, undersecretary of defense for personnel and readiness, said in a press release.
A working group that includes representatives from each military service, the Joint Staff and the DOD's Institute of Heraldry are conducting the review, which will take six to eight months. Their work will lead to a revised version of the Defense Department's Manual of Military Decorations and Awards, he said. The last revision was in 1996, although there have been additions and changes made since that time, Upton said. The review will involve only decorations and awards that are offered by all the services, like the Purple Heart and Bronze Star, not those that are unique to a particular service, Upton said.
Reviewers will focus on three major areas, including expeditionary medals, the release said. "We need to define what, exactly, makes up the battlefield," and qualifies a member for an expeditionary medal, Upton said. "How about the guy flying the plane that is dropping bombs over a battlefield? And what about the guy who's putting the bombs on that plane back in Ohio?"
A second focus will be honor and valor awards, for which "we must clarify criteria, including a review of boundaries that increasingly extend far beyond a particular combat zone, yet involve direct threats to American lives" Chu is quoted as saying in the release. Servicemembers also have raised concerns about consistency when it comes to the award of the ‘V' device for valor, Upton said. "They want to make definitions consistent across the board in regards to the V device," Upton said. "You want to be sure that if you see someone with a Bronze Star with a V, that everyone knows what that person did in order to rate that."
A third area is whether the Pentagon should authorize multiple awards of the Iraq and Afghanistan campaign medals, or otherwise develop a process for servicemembers to show multiple tours in either theater, Upton said. Right now, "there's no way to show these consecutive tours."
For additional awards and decorations which may be worn, see Army [AR-600 8-22], Navy and Marine Corps [SECNAVINST 1650,1F; Air Force [AFI 36-2803]; and Coast Guard [COMDTINST M 1650.25.B].
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