24 October 2014

Military Misconceptions: The Bronze Star Medal

There are many awards that the military bestows on their service members but none hold more disdain than the Bronze Star. You will find resentment among the ranks for young officers in staff who receive this award while other soldiers are fighting on the front in the Global War on Terror. We often ask how this could happen, but it is not quite that simple.

The Bronze Star Medal was authorized in 1944 by President Roosevelt. There was no “V” device at the time of inception. The concept of the medal came from GEN George Marshall with the intent of awarding it to those who fought on the ground, particularly the infantry. He wrote that the infantry “lead miserable lives of extreme discomfort and are the ones who must close in personal combat with the enemy.” This led to the Bronze Star Medal being awarded, retroactively back to 1941, 395,380 times during WWII according to the Army Institute of Heraldry. The Bronze Star Medal was also awarded to any soldier with a Combat Infantry Badge or a Combat Medic Badge. It didn’t necessarily tie a single act or achievement beyond serving as an infantryman who fought during the war, thus making it a service award. 

The Bronze Star Medal was also awarded for acts of heroism during the war. A year after the medal was approved, the “V” device was introduced to designate a single act of heroism or valor from those who purely served in the infantry in combat during the war. Of the most notable soldiers who were awarded a Bronze Star Medal, twice, was Audie Murphy. Of his two Bronze Stars, one was for valor and one was for service. 

Moving to other wars after WWII, we saw 30,359 BSMs being awarded in Korea. At that time, the Army did not appear to track how many were awarded with valor. The first war to track the “V” device separately was Vietnam with 170,626 BSMs with valor and 549,343 for Achievement/Service. Now Operation Iraqi Freedom, from 2003 to 2010, saw 99,886 Bronze Star Medals awarded in OIF for Achievement/Service. In addition to those, there were only 2,459 awarded for valor. 

As we can see the Bronze Star Medal was not originally intended for a single act of heroism but for service in the while serving as an infantrymen in combat. Today that award has expanded to include all branches of the Army. If a logistics officer served in Iraq, he may be eligible for the BSM. It is counted among the highest honors one can obtain for service. With a very small quantity of Bronze Star Medals being awarded solely for a heroic act, one should not automatically assume that it is unjustifiably being awarded to soldiers that were not involved in direct action.

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*These opinions belong to the writer and in no way reflect the views of the DoD or other departments of the US government.

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