National armies throughout the ages have awarded special privileges and military decorations to members who have gone beyond the call of duty. The more glorious the deed, the higher the medal. These honours recognise the saving of comrades, the capture of enemies or the overcoming of obstacles considered too formidable for one soldier to conquer.
Medal of Honor
The Medal of Honor is the highest and least awarded of all the medals issued by the U.S. Army. It is issued only to those who have displayed gallantry against an enemy of the United States. The Medal of Honor can be presented only by the president on behalf of the American people.
Service crosses are awarded by all branches of the military for the display of extraordinary heroism against a U.S. enemy. Each branch has its own version of the service cross: the Army's Distinguished Service Cross: the Navy Cross, which includes the Marine Corps and the Coast Card; and the Air Force Cross. The service cross for each branch is the second-highest medal after the Medal of Honor.
The Silver Star is the third-highest U.S. military medal. The Silver Star is awarded for heroism in action against an enemy of the United States or while serving with friendly foreign forces against an opposing force when the United States is not an active belligerent. The Silver Star is awarded by all branches of the U.S. military.
Medals for Heroism
Numerous medals for heroism are issued to soldiers in all branches of the military. The Bronze Star and the Soldiers medal are awarded by the Army. The Navy awards the Navy and Marine Corps Medal and the Coast Guard Medal, and the Air Force awards the Airman's Medal.
All military branches award Purple Hearts for heroism. These are given only to soldiers wounded in combat while engaging an enemy.