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Foreign Medals and Ribbons: Quick Reference
Foreign Medals and Ribbons Awarded by Countries
Foreign Medals and Ribbons Awarded by Multi-National Organizations


When the United States entered the First World War, its troops were soon placed in a unique situation. For the first time in its history, American soliders were sent abroad in large numbers to fight along with foreigh allies against a common enemy. These foreign allies quickly acknowledged American valor by awarding decorations to our troops; however, a problem quickly developed. On November 26, 1917, fifteen American soldiers, the first to withstand enemy attack, were given the French Croix de Guerre but had to put them in their pockets because they were prohibited by the Constitution from wearing them. Section 9 of Article I of the United States Constitution specifically states that, "No title of nobility shall be granted by the United Sates: And no person holding any Office of Profit or Trust under them, shall, without the Consent of the congress, accept any present, Emolument, Office, or title, of any kind whatever, from any King, Prince, or foreign State." Foreign medals fall squarely within this Constitutional prohibition. Fortunatley, the restriction is not absolute as medals and decorations may be accepted with the "consent of Congress." Congress quickly passed legislation allowing American military personnel to accept foreign decorations, and during the First World War a large number were awarded to Americans. The decorations most frequently awarded included those of France (the Legion of Honor, Medaille Militaire, and Croix de Guerre); Great Britain (the Military Cross, Distinguished Conduct Medal, and Military Medal); Belgium (Croix de Guerre), and Italy (War Merit Cross).

Since then Congress has passed legislation permitting the acceptance of foreign awards from friendly foreign governments for specific periods of military action. However, the awards must have been presented and accepted by the recipient within the inclusive dates authorized by Congress. The specific authorizations (and their respective time periods) are:
  • World War II: December 7, 1941, through July 24, 1948 (Public Law 80-314);

  • Berlin Airlift: June 26, 1948, through September 20, 1951 (Public Law 81-503);

  • Korean War: June 27, 1950, through July 27, 1955 (Public Law 83-354); and,

  • Vietnam: March 1, 1961, to March 28, 1974 (Public Law 89-257).
Congress granted its consent generically in Public Law 95-101 (Section 7 of Title 5, United States Code), when it said medals and decorations can be accepted subject to certain conditions and restrictions. In the case of the Armed Forces, the law is implemented in Department of Defense Directive 1005.13 (first issued on June 7, 1983). Decorations and medals offered to members of the Armed Forces must be one that is also conferred by the foreign government on its own armed forces. For example, South Korea created a medal intended for American military personnel who served in Korea during the Cold War. The U.S. government has not allowed American forces to accept this medal because it is not awarded to members of the South Korean Armed Forces.

The United States is not alone in imposing limitations on the accepting foreign awards and decorations. In England their restrictions began in an interesting way: it was based on the custom of monarchs personally granting orders of knighthood. Queen Elizabeth I, when told that one of her subjects was to receive a foreign order of knighthood, reportedly said, "My dogs shall wear only my Collars." The British Government restricted the right of members of the British armed forces to accept and wear foreign decorations, a policy that has been effect since the reign of Queen Victoria (1837-1901). This practice is still embodied in what is known as the "Queen's Rules," which severely restrict the kinds of foreign awards that can be accepted and worn.

During the Korean War the United Nations awarded its own service medal to countries that participated in military operations under United Nations authority. Most of the countries involved also issued their own campaign medal (for example, the United States issued the Korean Service Medal to those who participated in the Korean War). By the same token, the Republic of South Vietnam awarded a service medal for participation in the Vietnam War, and American military personnel were authorized to accept and wear this medal along with the campaign medal specifically authorized by the United States for the same service (the medal given to Americans by the Vietnamese government was also awarded to South Vietnamese personnel). After the Gulf War the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia authorized a campaign medal for the Liberation of Kuwait, and the United States permitted members of the Armed Forces to accept this medal.

Some countries and multi-national organizations have authorized unit and other awards which the United States has authorized individuals and units to accept and wear. This section identifies some of the foreign medals and ribbons commonly awarded to United States personnel. Although the listing is by no means comprehensive, it does include the more common awards.

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