The Prisoner of War Medal was established by Act of Congress (Public Law 99-145, 99th Congress) on November 14, 1986, as amended by the National Defense Authorization Act of 2013 (Public Law 112-239, January 2, 2013).


The Prisoner of War Medal commemorates military service as a prisoner of war. It is awarded to any member of the Armed Forces who, since April 5, 1917, has been or shall be taken prisoner or held captive while engaged in an 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 forces engaged in armed conflict against an opposing armed force in which the United States in not a belligerent party.

Under uniform regulations prescribed by the Secretary of Defense, the Secretary concerned may issue a Prisoner of War Medal to any person who, while serving in any capacity with the Armed Forces, was held captive under circumstances not covered above, but which the Secretary concerned finds were comparable to those circumstances under which persons have generally been held captive by enemy armed forces during periods of armed conflict

The individual's conduct while in captivity must have been honorable.


The Prisoner of War Medal takes precedence by law after all unit awards and before all campaign and other service medals.


Additional awards of the Prisoner of War Medal are denoted by bronze stars.


The Prisoner of War Medal was designed by Jay C. Morris of the Army's Institute of Heraldry.


The first Prisoner of War Medal was awarded to Commander Everett Alverez, U.S.N.



In the center of a bronze medallion one and three eighths inches in diameter, an eagle is shown with its wings displayed. Forming a circle around the eagle and following the contour of the medal, barbed wire and bayonet points may be seen. The eagle is the American bald eagle and represents the United States in general and the individual prisoner of war in particular. It is standing "with pride and dignity, continually on the alert for the opportunity to seize hold of beloved freedom."


In the center of a bronze medallion one and three eighths inches in diameter, the inscription AWARDED TO/ /FOR HONORABLE SERVICE WHILE A PRISONER OF WAR. Following the curvature of the lower quarter of the medal, UNITED STATES OF AMERICA. Centered within the lower quarter of the medal, a crest, taken from the Great Seal of the United States.


The ribbon to the Prisoner of War Medal consists of a central band of black edged in white. The edge stripes of the ribbon are composed of pinstripes of red, white and blue (with the red forming the outer edge of the ribbon). The red, white and blue edge stripes represent the United States; the larger white stripes represent hope, and the black center stripe alludes to the bleakness of confinement as a prisoner of war.


Return to top of page
Commemorative Medals (Index Page)
Quick Reference: Commemorative Medals
Home Page