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U.S. military medals are categorized by personal decorations, service awards, campaign medals, unit awards, and marksmanship awards. Each branch of the service dictates the order of precedence for individual awards, which is the order in which medals must be displayed when worn.

About U.S. Military Medals

U.S. Military Medals

The most well known U.S. military medals are the Medal of Honor, which is awarded for "gallantry and intrepidity at risk of life above and beyond the call of duty." A Medal of Honor recipient, no matter his or her rank, is accorded salutes by all military personnel who encounter him no matter their rank. This is the highest U.S. military award that may be granted and is more often granted posthumously than it is to a living survivor.

The U.S. Medal of Honor was awarded 464 times during World War II with 266 awarded posthumously. It was awarded 133 times during the Korean War with 95 awarded posthumously and was awarded 246 times during Vietnam with 154 awarded posthumously. For the U.S. missions in Afghanistan and Iraq, it has been awarded twice and four times respectively, all posthumous awards as of 2010.

Other Distinguished Medals

The Distinguished Service Cross (individual awards within each branch including the Navy Cross and the Air Force Cross) is the second highest honor to be bestowed upon a member of the United States military. The distinguished award is given only to a member of the U.S. Army, Navy, Marine Corps, Coast Guard, and Air Force (individual services award their own version of the service cross) for extreme gallantry and risk of life when in actual combat against an armed enemy.

Other medals include distinguished unit medals offered after December 7, 1941, to units of the military that showed esprit de corps and extreme gallantry in the face of the enemy. Each medal or honor is accorded to those in the U.S. Armed Forces who show dedication to duty, commitment to excellence, bravery in the face of danger, and who put the needs of their brothers and sisters in the armed forces above themselves.

Campaign Medals

Campaign medals are a specific type of U.S. medals presented to those men and women who served in a particular campaign from World War II to Korea, Vietnam, Nicaragua and more. These medals recognize and honor the individual units and personnel who served their country and defended the nation's honor and freedom.

Recognizing and Celebrating the Military

Military medals are of special pride to the families of those who served. Medals are kept as keepsakes for children often to remember fallen parents, siblings, and, for some, their own sons and daughters who went off to war. In the United States, the military serves to defend American borders, freedom, and liberty. Since the Civil War, nearly all wars fought by military personnel are on foreign soil requiring soldiers to leave their homes, families, and country for months and sometimes years. The recognition of this service is just one small way Congress, the Executive branch, and the military chain of command have to say thank you.

The Stolen Valor Act of 2005

In 2006, then President George W. Bush signed into law the Stolen Valor Act which expanded upon a previous law to address the manufacture, sale, claim and wearing of U.S. military medals and decorations not earned in the line of duty. This law expanded the federal scope of inquiry to battle against corrupt and fraudulent claims as well as the purchasing and wearing of military decorations for personal gain, which is considered an affront to the men and women who actually earned the medal. If prosecuted and found guilty under this act, it is a federal misdemeanor offense, which is punishable by up to 1 year in prison and a fine.

Wearing a medal earned by a parent or grandparent to honor their memory on a specific day is not a fraudulent action. Wearing a medal of honor a person did not earn is a fraudulent action because of the service and honor paid to those recipients. The Stolen Valor Act of 2005 simply expanded those protections to other awards and service ribbons.