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History of Medals

"Freedom has a taste, and for those that have fought for it, the taste is so sweet the protected will never know..."

General George Patton

History of Military Medal

Medals were awarded for military valor in the 15th century, but not until the end of the 18th century did medals commemorating victorious engagements become widespread. Medals awarded by European countries for outstanding military service include the French M©daille Militaire (1852) and Croix de Guerre (1915), the British Victoria Cross (1865) and Distinguished Service Cross (1940), the German Iron Cross (1813), and the Norwegian Order of Saint Olav (1847).

Service medals awarded by the U.S. Army and Navy for participation in specific campaigns include, for example, the Civil War Campaign Medal and the Victory Medal for service in World War I or World War II. The U.S. Army confers the Distinguished Service Cross (1918) on those displaying exceptional heroism and the Order of the Purple Heart (see Purple Heart, Order of the), instituted by George Washington in 1782, on soldiers wounded or killed in action. U.S. Air Force medals include the Distinguished Flying Cross (1926), awarded to those who exhibit extraordinary heroism or achievement in aerial flight. U.S. Navy and Marine medals include the Distinguished Service Medal (1919); the Navy Cross (1919), awarded for heroism in combat; and the Navy and Marine Corps Medal (1942), the award given for heroism in non-combat situations.

The highest military award bestowed by the U.S. is the Medal of Honor (1861), which is granted in the name of the U.S. Congress to those who have risked their lives above and beyond the call of duty. The Good Conduct Medal is given for exemplary behavior to all enlisted members of the armed forces who complete terms of active duty.

Other military medals are given for specific outstanding performance, as, for example, excellence in marksmanship. Ribbons are often attached to medals, and stars and other devices are added to indicate particulars such as the campaigns in which the wearer participated. Ribbons are sometimes worn alone as substitutes for medals.