silver star medal

The 5 Highest-Ranking U.S. Military Medals

The five highest-ranking military medals for bravery in combat include the Congressional Medal of Honor, the Distinguished Service Cross (DSC), the Navy Cross, the Air Force Cross and the Silver Star Medal. According to The Institute of Heraldry, these awards are also referred to as “decorations” because of the the personal nature associated with the qualifications for each medal, and are not awarded the same as a campaign or service medal.

While each is awarded for demonstrated acts of gallantry in combat operations against a known enemy of the United States of America, there are specific criteria for each, as well as specific levels of approval and presentation. The DSC, Navy Cross and the Air Force Cross are all equivalent service medals and are displayed as such.

U.S. Military Medal

The Congressional Medal of Honor is the highest military decoration awarded for valor and is the only one approved by the U.S. Congress for presentation by the President of the United States, in the name of Congress. It is only awarded to members of the U.S. Armed Forces who distinguish themselves through conspicuous gallantry and intrepidity at the risk of life above and beyond the call to duty while engaged in action against an enemy of the United States. According to the Air Force’s Personnel Center (AFPC), this involves, “military operations involving conflict with an opposing foreign force or while serving with friendly foreign forces engaged in an armed conflict against an opposing armed force in which the United States is not a belligerent party.”

The Medal of Honor was originally designed during the Civil War and presented for valiant efforts to the Union forces during battle. Today, the Medal of Honor is presented with a ribbon, five stars (two on top, three in the middle) and a six-sided rosette bearing 13 stars, displayed when the medal is not worn on the recipient’s uniform or on civilian attire, as appropriate. There are three distinct versions of the Medal of Honor: one for the U.S. Army, one for the U.S. Air Force and one for the U.S. Navy, Marine Corps and Coast Guard, each with their own design.

Congressional Medal of Honor

Notable recipients of the Congressional Medal of Honor include Marine Sergeant Daniel Daly, Major General Theodore Roosevelt Jr. and General Douglas MacArthur.

The Distinguished Service Cross, the Navy Cross and the Air Force Cross are all the second highest military medal award for valor, awarded to each specific military service component for extraordinary heroism while engaged in action against an enemy of the United States; while engaged in military operations involving conflict with an opposing foreign force; or while serving with friendly foreign forces engaged in an armed conflict against an opposing armed force in which the United States is not a belligerent party. The actions of the awardee must be of such a high degree that they are above all other combat decorations, yet do not merit the awarding of the Congressional Medal of Honor.

The Distinguished Service Cross (Army), the Navy Cross (Navy), and the Air Force Cross (Air Force) are ranked as the second highest award for valor. Each medal is awarded to members of their respective branches for extraordinary.

The Secretary of the Army awards the Distinguished Service Cross, DSC, upon Soldiers of the U.S. Army, the Secretary of the Navy confers the Navy Cross on the services of a Sailor, Marine or Coast Guardsman and the Secretary of the Air Force confers the Air Force Cross on Airmen, all by the authority of Congress.

The most notable recipients of their respective service cross include General Creighton W. Abrams Jr., General Matthew B. Ridgway, Master Sergeant David R. Halbruner, Chief Warrant Officer Five David F. Cooper and Colonel George S. Patton IV.

Distinguished Service Cross, the Navy Cross and the Air Force Cross

Distinguished Service Cross, the Navy Cross and the Air Force Cross

The Silver Star Medal, or the Silver Star, is the third highest military combat award presented to a service member of the U.S. Armed Forces for gallantry, for instance, per the AFPC, “while engaged in military operations involving conflict with an opposing foreign force or while serving with friendly foreign forces engaged in an armed conflict against an opposing armed force in which the United States is not a belligerent party.” The actions of the recipient are of high degree but do not merit awarding the Congressional Medal of Honor or a service-specific cross (DSC, the Navy Cross or the Air Force Cross).

The Silver Star has been awarded to more than 100,000 military service members since its inception in 1932. The most recent female Silver Star Medal recipients include Sergeant Leigh Ann Hester (Iraq, 2005) and Monica Lin Brown (Afghanistan, 2008), both for extraordinary heroism in combat during the Global War on Terrorism in Iraq and Afghanistan, respectively. U.S. Army Colonel David “Hack” Hackworth is notably the military service member to have received the Silver Star Medal the most–10–while General Douglas MacArthur was the first recipient of the medal.

Medals of America salutes those who have served our nation, faithfully and selflessly, and offers a heartfelt thank you to those brave Americans who have placed their lives between the enemy and the ones whom they serve with in combat. You are brave, and we are the land of the free because of your demonstrated gallantry and valor! THANK YOU!