Medals and awards discussion

Decorations: The Navy Achievement Medal (NAM) is largely meaningless today; the most questionable issuance I’ve seen was a non-striker E-2 working as a clerk of some sort at the submarine museum at Groton with no sea/overseas ribbon but who had already “earned” an NAM; also, a while back the Navy was giving NAMs to any sailor who referred two enlistees to a recruiter (!?).

Having said that, standards for the most prestigious decorations (MOH, Navy Cross (NC), Silver Star, etc.) have been upheld and relatively few have been awarded since Viet Nam. Likewise, many decorations were awarded in the old days for feats that would not warrant them today; e.g., prior to WWII MOHs and Navy Crosses were given for non-combat situations and many NCs were awarded for actions in WWI that would have later only rated Commendation Ribbons (later Commendation Medals) or a Bronze Star at most. That’s because prior to WWII about all the Navy had was MOH (originated 1862 for enlisted men), Distinguished Service Medal and NC (both originated 1919 and awarded retroactively for WWI).

Service Medals: The Navy Good Conduct Medal has a fascinating history; it originated in 1869 and is the second oldest US military award in continuous use after the MOH and the current medallion design dates from 1886; therefore it provides a common link among all US sailors who served during the past 134 years. My view on the National Defense Service Medal (NDSM) has changed since the time I also disparaged it as a “geedunk medal”. Yes, it’s probably the easiest to earn and least exclusive award in US history, but, again, it provides a common thread among shipmates who served in periods of “heightened tension” during the past 64 years. NDSM’s predecessor was the American Defense Service Medal which originated in 1941 (qualifying dates September 1, 1939 – December 6, 1941) to recognize increased “ops tempo”, mandatory enlistment extensions, increased danger (e.g., Atlantic convoy escorts), etc., after President Roosevelt declared a emergency situation when the Germans invaded Poland; the Army required a year’s service to get one but the Navy only required 10 days of service and also gave a “battle star” to sailors deployed on a ship. The NDSM originated in 1954 to recognize, again, mandatory enlistment and tour extensions and other hardships occasioned by the Korean War (even for those not deployed to Korea). The same rationale was used for the so-called Vietnam era, Gulf War and since September 11, 2001. Thus I feel this award provides a common link among sailors who served during periods when, even if not actually deployed to a war zone, there were unusual service demands.

Campaign Medals: The history of these is fascinating and although often not difficult to earn – just show up in theater – they perform the valuable function by recognizing that the recipient was deployed at an actual or potential combat zone (also nowadays you need to have received one of a specified list of campaign medals to get veterans’ preferences for government employment). Some tidbits: “The shorter the war the more the medals”: notion stems from the Spanish-American war which was very short but eventually produced, I believe, eight medals. WWI produced just one campaign medal – the WWI Victory Medal – but originated the concept of “battle stars”. As far as I can determine this is the earliest campaign medal awarded to US submarine crews (those deployed to the eastern Atlantic, Azores, etc., who were also issued a “submarine” clasp – originals very rare - for their medal suspension ribbon which was represented by a “battle star” on their service ribbon). There was also a WWI Army of Occupation Medal but it was not issued until the middle of WWII (!?). WWII: six medals in total; three campaign medals plus the Victory Medal, the ADSM mentioned above and the WWII Occupation Medal (which was still being issued as late as 1989 (!?) for six months service in Berlin). Korean War: this may have been “the Forgotten War” but the medal makers didn’t forget it. Since 1945 no fewer than six medals have recognized service in Korea (Occupation Medal (September 1945 June 50); Korean Service Medal, UN Service Medal and ROK Korean War Service Medal (all June 1950-July 1954; same dates as first NDSM); Armed Forces Expeditionary Medal (AFEM) (1966-1974); the brand new Korean Defense Service Medal (July 1954 through the present; rules aren’t issued yet but probably can’t wear both the KDSM and the AFEM (Korea). Vietnam: Vietnam Service Medal (replaced AFEM effective July 4, 1965-March 23, 1973; only required one day of service; also for those on duty in Thailand, Cambodia and Laos) and Republic of Vietnam Campaign Medal (six months in-country or at least one day during six different calendar months on ships or aircraft entering the war zone). Gulf War: Southwest Asia Service Medal (August 1990 through mid-1995; followed by AFEM for some locales (e.g., Operation Southern Watch) until the 2002 Iraq War; also medals issued by Saudi Arabia and Kuwait Liberation of Kuwait Medals for various time periods and locales. 2002 Iraq War (not sure if the medal has been determined; may be new Global War on Terrorism Expeditionary Medal as awarded for Afghanistan). Most campaign medals – except Vietnam – required 30 continuous or 60 non-continuous days in theater; the time requirement is waived for KIA, WIA, participation in actual combat or service deemed equally dangerous, which is typically defined as aircrew or submarine duty. Therefore, submarine crews could receive any of these campaign medals for entering the theater for even a few minutes. [from Bottom Gun BBS 9/26/03 posted by "Charlie"]

An offsite link with some good historical perspective: Federal Military Ribbon Awards

An interesting and sometimes controversial topic. We each have our own viewpoint. Much has to do with "service conditioning" and era of service. I meet bi-monthly with a WWII SUBVET Chapter. Their perspective is different from mine. Understandably in the context of the above. In my era, the Navy Achievement Medal was hard to come by. Now it's basically an "end of tour" gimme. The whole system has been diluted. Our grandson completed basic in the USAF with TWO ribbons! One for finishing basic and the old geedunk ribbon for being on active duty during time of conflict known as the National Defense Ribbon. Now the USN gives a ribbon for "sea duty". WTF, over. A sailor is supposed to have sea duty! The USAF caused a bunch of this IMHO in their proliferation of geedunk ribbons. The other services had to "compete" or lose out in the propaganda conflict.

That said, in the "veterans arena" there are other considerations. Again era/time related. I had a friend to ask me recently, "Where did you get your CAR?" And I was at a loss because I didn't know what he was referring to. I hadn't heard of a Combat Action Ribbon referred to as a "car"! An interesting discussion followed...On this topic!

All of the top chairs in the Texas VFW currently are Vietnam vets. I'm from the Korean era. I know about incoming hits from shore batteries and the loss of a shipmate and several others injured. As a teenager at the time, it left a lasting impression in my memory bank that Freedom Is Not Free.
The following is a quote from one of my web pages:

"Some veterans have service ribbons, combat theater ribbons, personal awards or honors and/or specialty badges.
Some have all. Additionally there are unit name patches and logos.
When among veterans, the display of these is a resume of sorts.
When one has pride in their respective service, they like to show that they've
"Been There and Done That!"

Also, they are a means of recognition of those that have served in the same theater, unit, ship or submarine.
More than one reunion has occurred through this recognition process
where decades may have passed and our features have changed."

That's my basic viewpoint and there's room for many other viewpoints.
My awards? And about half are to me geedunk, but the others were hard earned.

•     Navy Achievement Medal with two gold stars
•     Combat Action Ribbon for Korea (52 -53)
•     Navy Good Conduct Medal with two stars
•     China Service Medal for Formosa Straits Patrol - 1952
•     Navy Occupation Service Medal Japan - early 1952
•     National Defense Service Medal with one star
•     Korean Service Medal with two stars
•     Armed Forces Expeditionary
•     Korean Presidential Citation Medal
•     United Nations Service Medal
•     Korean War Service Medal
•     Warfare Pins: Silver Dolphins, FBM Deterrent Patrol & Gold Dolphins

In the category of Been There - Done That the most meaningful to me are: The two Navy Achievement Awards, the Combat Action Ribbon, the China Service Ribbon, the Korean Service Ribbon and above all having met the requirements for both the Silver Dolphins and the Gold Dolphins.

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Updated/revised 1 May 05.