In 1787 Colonel David Humphreys wrote, “Few inventions could be more happily calculated to disseminate knowledge and preserve the memory of illustrious personages and splendid events, than medals.”
The Revolutionary War colonel and aide-de-camp to General George Washington made the statement more than a decade after the Continental Congress first instituted the tradition of awarding medals to recognize and show appreciation for a distinguished military service in 1776. half a century later, his words still ring true. Today, Stacker takes a look at military medals and what they mean.
The awarding of medals remains one of the oldest, most cherished, and most sacred traditions in the culture and history of the United States Armed Forces. The five branches – Army, Navy, Air Force, Marines and Coast Guard – award medals to the most outstanding troops and the units in which they serve. In many cases, the honor is extended to members of the reserves and National Guard. Military medals can recognize gallantry or gallantry, heroism or meritorious service. They can be awarded for actions in peacetime or wartime, in defense of civilians or fellow soldiers, and they can be earned for actions taken in combat or outside of direct military conflict.
Some medals denote extraordinary service in air flight, some are specific to ground operations, and others are reserved only for those in the sea services. There are medals specific to the issuing branch, while others can be awarded to any member of any branch of service. Medals can indicate service in a specific conflict, such as Afghanistan or the Global War on Terror, or honor individual service. In addition, medals are issued to entire units.
Here is an overview of the most important and legendary medals awarded by the armed forces of the United States. Keep reading to find out what they mean, what it takes to earn one, who issues them, and where they rank in terms of importance.
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