What is the Silver Star?
US Armed Forces earn the Silver Star medal for acts of Gallantry. Gallantry means “dashing courage” and “noble-minded behavior.” In this context, it means “bravery and exceptional service under fire.” Civilians may also earn the medal in exceptional circumstances.
The Silver Star is a step up from the Bronze Star (which you can learn more about here). Personnel earn the Bronze Star for acts of bravery that are not sufficient for the highest military combat decorations. The Silver Star follows the Medal of Honor and the Distinguished Service Cross.
First created in 1918, known as the Citation Star, it became the Silver Star medal we know today in 1932. Since, many thousand US soldiers, airmen, sailors and marines have received the decoration. They continue to do so today. Since 2001 alone, 740 men and women received it for serving in Operation Iraq Freedom and Operation Enduring Freedom.
What Does the Silver Star Look Like?
Like the Bronze Star Medal, Rudolph Freund of Bailey Banks and Biddle designed the Silver Star Medal. Despite the name, the Silver Star consists of a five-pointed gold star that measures 1 ½” (38mm) overall. A laurel wreath encircles rays from the center. The center itself contains a 3/16” (4.8mm) five-pointed silver star.
The pendant hangs from a rectangular shaped metal loop with rounded corners. On the reverse, there is an inscription that says, “For Gallantry in Action.”
What is the Silver Star Awarded For?
President Woodrow Wilson established the original Silver Star, then called the Citation Star, in July 1918. The Citation Star looked like a small (3/16” or 4.8mm) silver star worn on the ribbon of the Victory Medals (for those in WWI). Victory Medals were awarded to officers and enlisted men. That is why the present medal has the small silver star at its center, and why it retains its name.
In 1932, Army Chief of Staff General Douglas MacArthur requested the Citation Star to become a medal in its own right. So, the Silver Star Medal was born. Subsequently, in 1942, Congress placed the medal into law. Principally, to allow the presentation of the medal to civilians as well as the Army personnel who displayed Gallantry. Also in that year, the medal expanded to include Navy and USMC personnel as well.
The Silver Star Medal is the third-highest military combat award available to a member of the United States Armed Forces for Gallantry. This includes:
- When engaged in action against an enemy of the United States
- While engaged in military operations involving conflict with an opposing force (such as terrorists and other hostile groups)
- When serving with friendly foreign forces in armed combat against an opposing armed force in which the United States is not a belligerent party (which means they aren’t officially fighting them)
What is the Silver Star Medal?
The medal is a gold star surrounding the small silver star (described above) hangs from a 1 ⅜” (35mm) wide ribbon. The ribbon consists of thin stripes in the colors of the United States Flag. The details of the ribbon are, from the left:
- 3/32” (2.4mm) Ultramarine Blue – this represents the blue on the US flag
- 3/64” (1.2mm) White – this thin stripe represents the stars on the US flag
- 7/32” (5.5mm) Ultramarine Blue – this next dark blue wide stripe represents the Navy and Air Force
- 7/32” (5.5mm) White – this white stripe represents the wide white stripes on the US flag
- 7/32” (5.5mm) Old Glory Red (center stripe) – Old Glory Red on the ribbon represents the red stripes on the US flag and the US Army, which is the heart of the armed forces.
These colors are reversed on the other side of the Old Glory Red stripe.
The Silver Star shares many commonalities with the Medal of Honor, in terms of its recipient criteria. At an award ceremony for the Silver Star, a three-star General, or someone of higher rank must preside. In this context, they become the “commander-in-theater.”
What is a Silver Star Medal Recipient?
A recipient of the Silver Star Medal is a civilian or member of the US Armed Forces who displays such a high degree of Gallantry to gain recognition. However, their act of Gallantry does not merit the highest awards. (The Medal of Honor and Distinguished Service Cross.)
If a recipient wins additional Silver Stars, they receive an additional decoration. This is known as a Bronze Oak Leaf Cluster in the Army and Air Force, or a Gold Star in the Navy and United States Marine Corps.
Should a recipient win the Silver Star six times, their Bronze Oak Leaf Cluster becomes a Gold Oak Leaf Cluster and a small Silver Star, respectively.
Examples of Silver Star Recipients
Perhaps surprisingly, the US Department Of Defense does not keep accurate records of everyone who has received a Silver Star. However, independent estimates put the figure at somewhere between 100,000 and 150,000 people.
That figure may seem high. But, when you consider that an estimated 30 million American men and women have served their country in the armed forces, you start to understand just how unique and rare the Silver Star Medal decoration is. Only one in every 250 servicemen and women is deemed worthy of the accolade.
The recipient awarded the highest number of Silver Stars is Colonel David “Hack” Hackworth. Hackworth won no fewer than 10 while serving in the Army during the Korean and Vietnamese Wars. He is well known for helping to create and command, Tiger Force, a tactical unit used against the Viet Cong guerilla fighters. He also received the Distinguished Service Cross. After his military career, he became an acclaimed journalist.
Everyone who receives this decoration is brave and deserving of our admiration and gratitude. Here are just a few of these remarkable people:
- Monica Brown, a United States Army sergeant and medic. She became the first woman to receive the award during the War in Afghanistan, and only the second since World War II.
- Llewellyn Chilsonwon three Silver Star Medals and many other decorations.
- The Hollywood actor Douglas Fairbanks Jr.served in the United States Navy in World War II. He received a Silver Star for his service on PT Boats.
- David L. Grangeretired as a United States Army Major General. Grange served in the 101st Airborne Division during Vietnam. He won three SSMs.
- Alexander Hague, who went on to become the US Secretary of State under President Ronald Reagan, won two Silver Stars in the Korean War. He also won three Bronze Star Medals and a Distinguished Service Cross.
- Lee Ann Hester received her Silver Star in 2005 for her heroism in the Iraq War and is the only woman recipient not to be involved with Army Medicine.
- Audie Murphy, another Hollywood star, won two Silver Stars after enlisting while still underage, received two Silver Stars while serving in the European Theater during World War II.
- Kevin Wheatley, an Australian, who also won the Victoria Cross, the highest award for Gallantry issued to British and Commonwealth forces. His bravery in the Vietnam War earned him the Silver Star.
We salute all those who have risked their lives for the safety of the United States and the world. You’ll find a more complete list at the Hall of Valor Project.
Medals are an essential symbol of service, recognizing an individual’s exceptional contribution and achievement. At Perfect Crafts & Gifts, you’ll find the perfect medal for you or a loved one, whether it is a Silver Star or another of our incredible medals. You can see our full range of medals here.