Display of Appurtenances – Part 1 – Understanding US Military Awards

The next area in which the Services have gone their separate ways is in the prescribed arrangement of the various devices used on the ribbons of decorations and service awards. We have already discussed the devices used on U.S. ribbons, but of particular interest are the following:

A. Additional award and campaign devices
B. Bronze Letter “V”
C. Differences in device usage
D. Multiplicity of device types (ribbon clutter)

Additional Award and Campaign Devices

In case A, the regulations have created a disparity in the use of the silver device worn in lieu of five bronze devices. For example, the Army and Air Force direct that a silver oak leaf cluster be worn to the right, i.e., the wearer’s right, of all bronze clusters on the same ribbon.

The Navy and Coast Guard, on the other hand, have dictated that “a silver star shall be located as near the center of the ribbon as a symmetrical arrangement will permit”. For the placement of devices on military medals they also specify that any bronze or gold star on the same ribbon be “placed to the wearer’s right” of the silver star. The Marine Corps has chosen to reverse this procedure and requires the bronze or gold star to be placed on the wearer’s left of any silver star.

B. Bronze Letter “V”

With reference to case B, the bronze letter “V” (Combat Distinguishing Device) not only has various methods of wear, but the Services vary widely on the military ribbons to which it may be attached. It is prescribed in common for use on the Bronze Star and Joint Service Commendation Medals but beyond that point, the usage variations in the table below are seen.

The next table below shows how the device is worn on the ribbon according to the applicable regulations. At first glance, the schemes might appear identical to that used for decorations. However, there is now a subtle difference since the Navy, Marine Corps and Coast Guard require that a letter device be absolutely centered on the ribbon bar. The Army and Air Force, as before, move the letter further to the wearer’s right as each new oak leaf cluster is added. In the case of the Air Medal, as awarded by the Army, the letter and the prescribed numerals are arranged symmetrically on the ribbon bar.

However, even the “absolutely centered” rule has a variation. If either the Coast Guard Commendation Medal or Achievement Medal is authorized with both the letters “V” and “O” (Operational Distinguishing Device), the two devices are worn on either side of the central white stripe.

Finally, there is the case where all the previously discussed conditions come together and the letter “V” is displayed with the silver and gold or bronze additional award devices. As before, the letter is the senior device in the Army and Air Force displays but, in another quick turnabout, all the Naval-related Services are now in total agreement.

Check back tomorrow for “Difference in Device Usage” and “Multiplicity of device types (ribbon clutter)”.