How to identify military medals

Written by laura hageman
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Personnel who serve in the U.S. Army, Air Force, Marines, Navy or Coast Guard are eligible for military medals. Receiving a medal is an outstanding accomplishment and an honour. Service members can receive more than one military medal, depending on the length of time served and their accomplishments.

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  1. 1

    Look at the symbolism on the military medal. Medals will most often bear stars, eagles, a cross, a wreath, soldiers or George Washington. All medals are symbolic of what the service member achieved. For example, a medal given for bravery or heroism will have an eagle on the front.

  2. 2

    Feel the shape of the medal. Military medals come in shapes such as an octagon, hexagon, a star, a circle or a heart.

  3. 3

    Notice what the military medal is made of. Military medals are made of gold, silver or bronze.

  4. 4

    Read the writing on the back. Most military medals will have some sort of writing on the back to explain how the medal was earned or who awarded it. For instance, the Silver Star will say "For gallantry in action," and it will include the service member's name. One of the few medals without a symbol or writing on the back is the highest honour a service member can receive: the Medal of Honor. It simply says "Valor" on the front.

  5. 5

    Recognise the ribbon with each military medal. The colours of the ribbon identify the level of honour the service member received and the military branch in which he or she served. For example, Navy and Marine Corps Medals of Honor are navy blue with yellow and red stripes, while the same medal from the Coast Guard is light blue with red and white stripes.

Tips and warnings

  • The Purple Heart is the only medal shaped like a heart and with George Washington on the front. It is also one of the very few that has any colour in it. There is purple in the medal, hence the name.

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