The military is often referred to as a bastion of discipline, rigorous training, and honor. One of the ways that the military recognizes its outstanding performers is by awarding medals to those who display outstanding courage and bravery. These medals represent the great sacrifices made by servicemembers over the course of duty, soldiers are not seeking glory for these actions but it is rather a call to go above and beyond in service to one’s compatriots or country. (Here are the 50 most decorated war heroes in American history.)
While some of these medals might vary slightly from branch to branch within the military like the Navy Cross, Air Force Cross, or Coast Guard Cross, they each represent a high level of sacrifice. To signify the importance of these medals, those at the highest level are awarded directly by the President of the United States. The Medal of Honor, for example, is always awarded by the President. For medals a step down from the top level, they can be awarded by the secretary of each respective military branch and in less common cases the President.
To determine the hardest medals to achieve from the U.S. military, 24/7 Wall St. referenced Military-Ranks.org’ list of Military Medals, ordered by precedence. Military-Ranks.org is an online database of military ranks, decorations, responsibilities and pay of the five branches of the United States’ Armed Services. Precedence refers to the honor and distinction signified by being awarded each medal. It also, according to military tradition, determines the order in which they are displayed on a service ribbon rack. Listed here are the 21 highest-precedence medals, according to Military-Ranks.org. Some of these medals are only issued by one branch, while others are issued to all branches. Data on which branches issue the decoration and the description came from Military-Ranks.org. In some cases, the medals unique to a particular branch have the same level of prestige as the same medal in another branch. Those ties are noted accordingly.
The Medal of Honor stands out as the highest military award in the United States. It is awarded to members of the military who have exhibited acts of valor above and beyond the call of duty. President Harry Truman spoke very highly of the award saying, “We do not go to war for gain or for territory, we go to war for principles, and we produce young men like these. I think I told every one of them that I would rather have that medal than be President of the United States”.
To be awarded the Medal of Honor, a service member must have shown unparalleled bravery and valor in the face of enemy forces. There are very few living people that have ever been awarded the Medal of Honor, in fact there are only 65 living recipients out of the 3,500 that have received the award in the more than 40 million that have served since the institution of the medal. (Here is where the most veterans live in every state.)
The Medal of Honor, among other medals, serves to recognize the extreme sacrifices made by those who serve in the military, and are a representation of the highest values of this nation.
Here’s a look at the 21 most prestigious medals and decorations earned by members of the U.S. military:
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