Military Wiki

Wall of Medals in the French Foreign Legion Museum.

A military decoration is an award, usually a medal of some sort, given to an individual as a distinctively designed mark of honor denoting heroism, or meritorious or outstanding service or achievement.[1] While the United States Government does not consider all its military awards and medals as being "decorations", other countries tend to refer to all its military awards and medals as "decorations".

Civil decorations awarded to military personnel should not be considered military decorations, although some orders of chivalry have civil and military divisions. Decorations received by police and fire brigade personnel may sometimes be considered alongside military decorations, on which they may be modelled, although they are strictly not military awards.


Decorations have been known since ancient times. The Egyptian Old Kingdom had the Order of the Golden Collar while the New Kingdom awarded the Order of the Golden fly.[2] Celts and Romans wore a torc or received other military decorations such as the hasta pura, a spear without a tip. Dayaks wore and still wear tattoos, etc. Necklaces and bracelets were given during the early Middle Ages, evolving into richly jewelled big necklaces, often with a pendant (commonly a medal) attached.

One of the oldest military decorations still in use is Poland's War Order of Virtuti Militar (Latin for "For Military Valour"). It was first awarded in 1792.[citation needed]

Contemporary use

Today military decorations include:

  • Orders of Chivalry;
  • Bravery awards, in the form of a cross, star or medal on a ribbon;
  • Distinguished service awards, in the form of a cross, star or medal on a ribbon;
  • Campaign medals worn on a ribbon;
  • Service medals worn on a ribbon;
  • Awards for entire units.

In most NATO militaries only service ribbons instead of medals are normally worn on everyday occasions.

In the British and Commonwealth systems, a decoration for an other rank (OR) is a medal and a decoration for an officer is a cross. For example a private would receive the Distinguished Service Medal, while a commissioned officer would receive a Distinguished Service Cross. There are some exceptions, such as the Victoria Cross (and commonwealth derivatives) and the George Cross.

See also


  1. DoD Manual 1348.33, 2010, Vol. 3
  2. David, Rosalie (1998). The Ancient Egyptians: Beliefs and Practices. Sussex Academic Press. p. 101. ISBN 1898723729. 

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