The Silver Star
For Gallantry in Action

By:  Marv Rodney

The Silver Star is the third highest military decoration that can be awarded to a member of any branch of the United States armed forces for valor in the face of the enemy.  It is awarded for gallantry in action against an enemy of the United States not justifying one of the two higher awards – the service crosses and the highest decoration, the Medal of Honor.

The Silver Star is the successor decoration to the Citation Star which was established by an Act of Congress on July 9, 1918.  Authorization for it was placed into law by an Act of Congress for the U.S. Navy on August 7, 1942 and an Act of Congress for the U.S. Army on December 15, 1942.  

The Silver Star may be awarded to any person who, while serving in any capacity with the armed forces, distinguishes himself or herself by extraordinary heroism involving one of the following actions:

  • In action against an enemy of the United States
  • While engaged in military operations involving conflict with an opposing foreign force, or
  • While serving with friendly foreign forces engaged in an armed conflict against an opposing armed force in which the United States is not a belligerent party. 

The Silver Star differs from the service crosses in that it requires a lesser degree of gallantry and need not be earned while in a position of great responsibility.  As an example, Air Force pilots are often considered eligible to receive a Silver Star upon becoming an ace (having five or more confirmed kills), which entails the pilot intentionally and successfully risking his life multiple times under combat conditions and emerging victorious.  Soldiers who received the Citation Star for gallantry in action during World War I were eligible to apply to have the citation converted to the Silver Star.

The Department of Defense does not keep extensive records of Silver Star awards.  Independent groups estimate that between 100,000 and 150,000 Silver Stars have been awarded since the award was established.  Colonel David Hackworth is the record holder for most Silver Stars awarded to a single person.  He earned ten Silver Stars for service in the Korean War and the Vietnam War, in addition to two Distinguished Service Crosses. 

In 1944, four nurses serving in World War II became the first female recipients of the Silver Star, all cited for their bravery in successfully evacuating the 33rd Field Hospital at Anzio, Italy, on February 10th.  They remained the sole female recipients until Sergeant Leigh Ann Hester was awarded the Silver Star in 2005 for gallantry during an insurgent ambush on a convoy in Iraq.  Army Specialist Monica Lin Brown was awarded the Silver Star in March 2008 for actions in the War in Afghanistan. 

Other notable recipients include:  Omar Bradley, Alexander Haig, George Patton, James Doolittle, Douglas Fairbanks, Douglas McArthur (seven awards), Matthew Ridgeway (two awards), James Stockdale (two awards), Ronald Speirs (two awards), Chuck Yeager (two awards). 

The Silver Star is a gold five-pointed star,  with a smaller silver star at its center and surrounded by shooting rays, which in turn is encircled by a laurel wreath.  The reverse has the inscription, "FOR GALLANTRY IN ACTION". The star is suspended from a red, white and ultramarine blue stripped ribbon.   Some Silver Stars are further enhanced by an oak leaf cluster to denote the second or more time it has been awarded to a particular recipient in the Army and Air Force and by award stars in the Navy, Coast Guard, and Marine Corps.


(This article was first published in the ENDEAVOR news magazine, July 2011.  ENDEAVOR can be viewed on this website.)


Picture courtesy of Wikipedia


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