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Military Awards, Medals and Ribbons

Ranjan Shandilya Oct 21, 2020
Military awards, the highest honor received for service to the country have been a part of the American tradition from a time as early as the American Revolution.
Military awards are awarded to recognize heroism, achievements and contributions while defending the country from enemies. When these awards were conceptualized in a time period as early as the American Revolution, there was no formal or a systematic plan.
About 60 decorations have been identified and awarded in the history of Armed Forces of United States. There have been changes in the eligibility criteria and many decorations have been discontinued.

The Medal of Honor

The Medal of Honor is the highest recognition awarded to a serviceman. It was proposed by the General-in-Chief of the Army, Winfield Scott, during the Civil War.
But Scott dismissed the idea as he felt the entire concept was too 'European'. The United States Congress approved it only in 1862. They authorized it to be worn as a badge of honor. The first recipients of the medal were the men involved in 'The Great Locomotive Chase'.
Since 1862, more than 3,400 men and 1 woman has been honored with the Medal of Honor. The revered medal, with its 13 stars on the blue flag and fringed with gold, is now awarded to highly exemplary acts of courage and sacrifice on the battlefield. It is something that every soldier of the military forces is proud to be awarded with.

Recipients of the Medal of Honor

  • Audie Leon Murphy, the most decorated American soldier. He fought for the country in WW II. He manned a machine gun mounted on a burning M10 Destroyer and fired at the advancing German soldiers, to protect his fellow soldiers who he sent out to the rear.
  • Clarence Sasser, who provided medical assistance to his company for five hours straight, while under heavy fire. He tended to his fellow soldiers while refusing any medical aid for himself, even after being heavily wounded in his legs!
  • Dr. Mary Walker, who was legally barred from joining the army, still managed to volunteer for medical aid in many places of war. She was a strong woman in a man's world, and constantly fought for not only herself, but also the lives of soldiers and in turn, her country.

Medals Awarded to Individuals

  • Distinguished Service Medal
  • Distinguished Service Cross Medal
  • Silver Star Medal
  • Bronze Star Medal
  • Meritorious Service Medal
  • Army Commendation Medal
  • Army Achievement Medal
  • Prisoner of War Medal
  • Civil War Campaign Medal
  • Army Defense Medal
  • Women's Army Corps Medal
  • Legion of Merit Medal

Medals Awarded to Units

In addition to the awards given out to individuals, awards are also given out to entire units that recognize entire organization for outstanding heroism or achievements during situations involving national interests.
Some awards of this type are:
  • Army Presidential Unit Citation Award
  • Joint Meritorious Unit Award
  • Army Valorous Unit Award
  • Army Meritorious Unit Award
  • Army Superior Unit Award
  • Philippine Presidential Unit Citation Award
  • Republic of Korea Presidential Unit Citation
  • Republic of Vietnam Presidential Unit Citation
  • Vietnam Gallantry Cross Unit Citation
  • Vietnam Civil Actions Unit Citation

Defense Medals

Apart from the awards mentioned here, Service medals, Campaign Medals and Service Ribbons are also awarded. These denote participation by a service member in a campaign, war, national emergency or a specified Service requirement. Since World War II, over 100 of these awards have been authorized. The following 9 are considered as Defense awards.

  • National Defense Service Medal
  • Antarctica Service Medal
  • Armed Forces Expeditionary Award
  • Vietnam Service Medal
  • Armed Forces Service Medal
  • Humanitarian Service Medal
  • ┬áMilitary Outstanding Volunteer Service Medal
  • Prisoner of War Medal

A Soldier's Decoration

Awards are displayed in a specific order with the highest, that is the most senior award being at the top and the least important or the junior award always being placed at the bottom. In rows of multiple awards, the highest award is placed to the wearer's right, signifying closeness to the heart.
Medals are only worn on dress ribbons and always have a corresponding ribbon. The Army Ribbons in the Armed Forces of the United States may be worn on green, blue and white uniform coats.
The military ribbons are worn in one or more rows in the order of precedence with no more than 4 ribbons to a row. The top row is centered and unit awards are centered above the right breast pocket.

Protecting the Awards

Once a medal has been awarded, it is the responsibility of the individual to maintain the state of the same. If the medal is tarnished, damaged or lost, the same medal can be bought! This is a very good alternative for personnel who have won the awards meritoriously, some misuse it and buy awards that they think they should have received or are impressive.
It devalues the awards, belittles one's efforts, not to mention the legal row that they would get into. This is due to the Stolen Valor Act of 2005, signed by President G.W. Bush. It protects the awards from being falsely claimed by US citizens. Faking an award is a federal crime and the person who claims the medal can get fined and/or jailed for 6 months.
If in case the forgery is of the Medal of Honor, then the impostor can be jailed for a year. The act protects the awards from being bought, sold or traded illegally. The Stolen Valor Act prevents US citizens from imitating as military award recipients, also protects the real recipients and their families so they can obtain the benefits they are entitled to.
It's not an easy job to get yourself a medal in military combat and medical aid. They are what define the real heroes of a country and truly honor them as such. Each of them possess the kind of character that anyone and everyone should yearn to mirror. The greatest award is the satisfaction and pride of serving the motherland.