Medals, decorations and awards

‘Deeds of high valor, wounds received in action against the enemy, military achievements in action, honorable service over a period of years – all are recognized by the President of the United States who, through the War Department, awards appropriate decorations. Ribbons, representing the medal awarded, are worn on the left breast of the uniform.’

The Official World War Two Guide to the Army Air Forces,1944

Just as the guide says, members of the USAAF could receive awards during their service.

Two awards were specifically developed to recognize achievement in the air: the Distinguished Flying Cross (not to be confused with the identically-named British decoration) and the Air Medal.

In addition, men of the USAAF could also be awarded other gallantry or achievement awards.

These medals, in order of precedence, were:

For bravery:

  • Medal of Honor – the nation’s highest award for gallantry
  • Distinguished Service Cross
  • Silver Star
  • Distinguished Flying Cross
  • Soldier’s Medal
  • Air Medal
  • Purple Heart – awarded for a wound sustained in action with the enemy which required treatment by a medical officer

For bravery or achievement:

  • Bronze Star

For achievement:

  • Distinguished Service Medal
  • Legion of Merit

None of these medals were issued more than once (apart from a posthumous award of the Purple Heart), but for each action that merited such an award, a bronze oak leaf cluster was awarded to be worn with the medal.

In addition to the above awards, the US government also issued service and campaign medals, to indicate the type of service a person had completed.

Foreign governments also awarded decorations to American airmen. You may find examples such as 'Croix de Guerre'.

Finally, you may come across terms such as 'Distinguished Unit Citation'. Whole units, as well as individual people, could be given awards, if they had taken part in particular action or distinguished themselves in a particular way. To show the unit had performed well, each member would receive a special device to be worn on the right breast of the uniform.