armed soldier with rifle american flag overlay

What Is a Silver Star Medal?

The Silver Star Medal (SSM), or Silver Star, is the third highest military award for valorous actions in combat. The origins of the Silver Star date back to July 9, 1918, when a Congressional Act authorized the issuance of the Silver Star for acts of gallantry against enemies of the United States, or while serving with friendly foreign forces “engaged in armed conflict against an opposing armed force in which the United States is not a belligerent party.” Furthermore, on August 7, 1942, Congress authorized the issuance of the Silver Star to non-military civilians for equal acts of gallantry against enemies of the United States. The Silver Star was the successor of the “Citation Star”, issued by the Department of War during World War I, and its design reflects its specific lineage.

Silver Star Medal

The Silver Star was designed by Rudolf Freund of Bailey, Banks and Biddle, a jeweler in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, founded in 1832. The medal is a five-pointed gold star with a laurel wreath in the body of the gold star with a smaller star centered on the medal. On the reverse of the star, the words “FOR GALLANTRY IN ACTION” in raised letters span across the back of the medal. The medal is suspended on a ribbon of red, white and blue stripes. The awarding of successive Silver Medals is noted by a bronze oak leaf, if a member of the U.S. Army or Air Force, or a bronze star, if a member of the U.S. Navy, Marine Corps or Coast Guard.

The Silver Star Medal’s criteria for issuance: It is awarded for actions that do not meet the threshold associated with the Army’s Distinguished Service Cross, the Navy Cross or the Air Force Cross. While the SSM is higher in precedence than the Bronze Star Medal (BSM), the SSM is the first distinctive medal issued solely for gallantry and valor in combat. To this point, the BSM can be awarded with a “V” device for valorous actions, but the BSM is the first distinctive service medal awarded for combat by distinguishing one’s self through meritorious achievement or service, equivalent to the Defense Meritorious Service Medal and the Meritorious Service Medal. The Congressional Medal of Honor, the Distinguished Service Cross, the Defense Distinguished Service Medal and the Army Distinguished Service Medal go before the Silver Star, in order of precedence.

The first Silver Star Medal was awarded to General Douglas MacArthur in 1932 and, subsequently, he was awarded the Silver Star seven times during the ceremony for actions during World War I. Other famous, or well-known, recipients of the Silver Star include former Secretary of State Alexander Haig, Senator John Kerry, Army General George Marshall and former Marine Lieutenant Colonel Oliver North. The SSM has been awarded to more than 100,000 U.S. military service members and civilians. Colonel David “Hack” Hackworth is noted as the military member to have received the most Silver Stars–10–for actions during the Korean and Vietnam wars.

General Douglas MacArthur

Since September 11, 2001, during the Global War on Terrorism, the Silver Star Medal has been awarded to well-deserving Americans during combat operations in Afghanistan and Iraq. U.S. Army Sergeant Monica Lin Brown, a combat medic assigned to the 82nd Airborne Division, Fort Bragg, NC, was awarded the Silver Star for extraordinary heroism when, on April 25, 2007, a roadside bomb detonated while her unit was on patrol in Jani Khel, Paktia, Afghanistan, directly wounding soldiers in her unit. Sergeant Brown exposed herself to enemy gunfire while delivering medical care to the wounded and used her body to shield them from intense mortar fire delivered by the Taliban. She was directly responsible for saving the lives of her fellow soldiers as she responded heroically to care for them while under direct fire from the Taliban. Of note, Sergeant Monica Brown was the first woman awarded the Silver Star during Operation Enduring Freedom in Afghanistan and only the second woman since World War II to receive the Silver Star Medal for actions in combat.

The Silver Star Medal is representative of a soldier’s willingness to place their life in danger against the enemies of America for their comrades. It reflects the American military fighting spirit and selfless service to the nation and others.