Medals of World War Two
U.S., German, Soviet, & British Medals and Decorations
By Stephen Sherman, Aug.2002. Updated Sept. 26, 2012.
American medals are linked on this page. See the links at left for German, Soviet, and British medals.
U.S. medals, like medals of other countries, include two main categories:
- Medals for valor, specific gallant acts that merit recognition. These medals are awarded throughout various wars and conflicts over time. For example, the British Victoria Cross and the American Medal of Honor have been awarded to recipients in many different wars for over a century.
- Medals for service in a particular war or campaign. These are awarded to those who served in such conflicts. In World War Two, the United States created specific service medals for those who served in the Europe-Middle Eastern Theater, the Asiatic-Pacific Theater, and the American Theater, as well as a WAC medal and a Victory medal.
Many of the American aces profiled elsewhere on this site earned the Medal of Honor, the Distinguished Service Cross, the Navy Cross, or the Silver Star.
U.S. Medals for ValorMedal of Honor
The nation's highest decoration for valor, 3,549 have been awarded since the medal was created in 1862.
2nd highest award for valor, for "Extraordinary Heroism in Connection with Military Operations Against an Opposing Armed Force." Established 1918.
2nd highest award for valor, for "Navy or Marine Corps who distinguishes himself with extraordinary heroism not justifying the award of the Medal of Honor, ... " Established in 1919.
3rd highest award for valor, for "Gallantry in Action Against an Opposing Armed Force." Established 1918. Awarded to all services.
"For Heroism or Extraordinary Achievement while Participating in Aerial Flight." Established 1926. Widely awarded in WW2
"For Meritorious Achievement while Participating in Aerial Flight." Established 1942. Over 440,000 awarded by 8th Air Force in WW2.
"For Heroic or Meritorious Achievement of Service, not involving aerial flight, in connection with Operations Against an Opposing Armed Force." Established 1944.
"For being wounded in action in any war or campaign." Thus designated by FDR in 1942, although the decoration had existed previously.
Prisoner of War Medal
Created in 1985. Awarded retrospectively to WW2 POWs.
U.S. Service Medals of WWII
The following were awarded for service in WW2:
Highly Decorated Units of WW2
The 442nd Regimental Combat Team, the famed Japanese-American "Go for Broke" unit earned more than 18,000 individual decorations including one Medal of Honor, 53 Distinguished Service Crosses, 588 Silver Stars, 5,200 Bronze Star Medals, 9,486 Purple Hearts, and eight Presidential Unit Citations (the nation's top award for combat units).
In June 2000, President Clinton awarded an additional 20 Medals of Honor to members of the 100th Battalion and 442nd Regimental Combat Team. This was the result of a re-examination of the files of dozens of Japanese-American soldiers to see if any of them might have been denied awards because of possible prejudice. One of these recipients was Hawaii's U.S. Senator Daniel Inouye.
The 32nd Infantry Division, "The Red Arrow," earned 11 Medals of Honor, 157 Distinguished Service Crosses, 845 Silver Stars, 49 Legion of Merit, 78 Soldiers Medals, 1,854 Bronze Stars, 11,500 Purple Hearts, and 98 Air Medals.
During World War Two, the 101st Airborne Division spent 214 days in combat. In addition to 2 Medals of Honor awarded to Soldiers of the 101st, the Division awarded 47 Distinguished Service Crosses, 516 Silver Stars and 6,977 Bronze Stars.
Troopers of the 82d Airborne, the All Americans," were awarded three Medals of Honor, 70 Distinguished Service Crosses, 894 Silver Star Medals, 2,478 Bronze Star Medals, and numerous foreign decorations.
Airmen of the Eighth Air Force were awarded 17 Medals of Honor, 226 Distinguished Service Crosses, 864 Silver Stars, 45,977 Distinguished Flying Crosses, 442,300 Air Medals, and 2,984 Bronze Stars.
The 3rd Bombardment Group (of the Fifth Air Force) had established an impressive record. Its personnel had earned a Medal of Honor, 37 Distinguished Crosses, 187 Silver Stars, 159 Distinguished Flying Crosses, 17 Bronze Stars, 24 Soldiers’ Medals, 640 Air Medals and 257 Purple Hearts.
In World War II, Navy Corpsmen earned seven Medals of Honor, 61 Navy Crosses, 465 Silver Stars, and 982 Bronze Stars.
WW2 American Medals for Sale
In Dec. 2008, I looked on eBay for World War 2 U.S. medals for sale, only looking at completed transactions. There were no completed listngs for DSC, Navy Cross, nor Purple Heart, which is one measure of how rare and precious those medals are.
- US Medals Sold on eBay
- DFC, in case - $109
- Lot of 5 Service Medals - $70
- Air Medal, in original box - $64
- Victory Medal, in box, unopened - $51
- Lot of 6 Service Medals - $50
- Bronze Star, in case - $50
- Silver Star, in case - $46
- DFC - $37
- Lot of 4 Service Medals - $37
- Bronze Star, with ribbon - $27
- Victory Medal - $26
- Bronze Star - $25
- Air Medal - $15
- Air Medal - $13