Military medals are usually seen but never heard about. We see them glistening on the chest of a military hero, but we aren’t quite sure how or why he or she has received this honor.
With no context or sense of the story behind military medals, they might all look the same to an everyday person who has never served in the U.S. military. But we can put an end to the misunderstandings right now by identifying the highest-ranking military medals available to be earned by military service members.
Military Medal Overview
The highest-ranking military medals are only for those who have acted with valor and heroism during combat and performed the duties that they signed up for above and beyond the call of duty.
The top three highest-ranking military medals are awarded for exceptional service on the battlefield. The lower-ranking medals are for both combat and non-combat exceptionalism.
There are some military medals that can be presented to military officers. Others are given to enlisted members only. What we are about to explore is some of the highest-ranking military medals that have been reserved for those that have exceeded expectations in combat. It is these awards for valor and heroism that are most often prioritized.
Awards and Decorations
For the uninformed, military medals are often confused with awards and decorations. Awards can be presented to an entire full unit, or an individual sailor, airman, Marine, soldier, or member of the Coast Guard.
Decoration can only be given to an individual for a specific purpose or because of a specific incident. The military medals we will be talking about are only decorations.
The Congressional Medal of Honor
The Congressional Medal of Honor, or simplified as the Medal of Honor, is the highest military honor that can be presented to a military member for uncommon valor while engaged in action against the enemy. The Congressional Medal of Honor is also the only military award that is congressionally approved to be officially presented by the President of the United States.
The Medal of Honor, first established for the U.S. Navy in 1861, has three variations, one for the U.S. Army, an Air Force version, and a third variation that is given to the Navy, Coast Guard, and Marine Corps.
The Distinguished Service Cross, the Air Force Cross, and the Navy Cross
The second highest medals that the military can issue for value, following after the Medal of Honor, happens to be a three-way tie between the Distinguished Service Cross, the Navy Cross, and the Air Force Cross. The Distinguished Service Cross (DSC), first awarded by the Army in 1918, has developed into a medal for valor to any qualifying service members from any branch of the United States military.
The Navy Cross was created in 1919 as an award for “distinguished service” originally, and then changed to a prize for exceptional combat performance in combat.
Navy Cross medals are presented not just to members of the Navy, but also to the Coast Guard and Marine Corps members.
Back in 1960, the presentation of the Air Force Cross emerged for that branch of service as their own version of the Distinguished Service Cross for bravery in combat.
The Silver Star
The Silver Star, first called the Citation Star when it came about in 1918, stands tall as the third-highest military medal awarded for bravery under fire. Redesigned as the Silver Star in 1932, it shares some criteria with the Medal Of Honor.
The actual president of the United States may not be the one to reward a Silver Star winner. But the ceremony is still prestigious enough to have to be presided over by a “commander-in-theater,” who is at least a three-star general.
Distinguished Flying Cross
The Distinguished Flying Cross (DFC) is a military medal that was created in the early 1900s and was first awarded to the U.S. Army for heroism or extraordinary achievement related to flight.
Combat is not the only reason the Distinguished Flying Cross was created. It could be awarded flight success as well as bravery. Amelia Earhart is an example of a prominent person who earned her Distinguished Flying Cross through her achievements outside of the battlefield.
The Bronze Star
The Bronze Star, established in 1944, is an award for heroism or achievement for both United States troops and qualifying members of foreign military organizations. The Bronze Star is not a combat-only award and can be awarded for achievement or exemplary service as well as combat performance, similar to the Distinguished Flying Cross.
The Purple Heart
The Purple Heart is a military medal that began during the American Revolution and is awarded for wounds or loss of life in the midst of combat “as the result of an act of any opposing force. Going from being the Badge of Military Merit started by George Washington in 1782, the Purple Heart has its name change launched in 1932.
After learning about the highest-ranking military medals available for United States military members, you can now truly salute the troops that have gone out of their way to serve all citizens of the United States of America.