DECORATIONS COMMON TO ALL SERVICE BRANCHES
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For many years the individual components of the Armed Forces were separate and distinct
entities. They had their own unique command structure, uniforms, and traditions.
When the military consisted of the Navy and War Departments, the division
of responsibility between the two was clear and unambiguous: the Navy prosecuted
war on the seas, and the War Department fought wars on land. Although the
Marine Corps bridged the gap between the two, it was historically a small
service and was far more closely allied with the Navy than with the Army.
The first wearable military decoration was the Medal of Honor. The Navy Medal of Honor was
established before the Army Medal of Honor, and even though the Army and Navy Medals
of Honor were given for fairly comparable acts, the medals themselves were similar but
different in design. The next decoration was established by the Army and was known as the
Certificate of Merit medal, for which there was no Navy counterpart. During the First World
War the Army established the Distinguished Service Cross and Distinguished Service Medal,
and about two years later the Navy followed suit with the Navy Cross and the Navy Distinguished
The first decoration of a common design that could be awarded independently to members of both services was the
Distinguished Flying Cross, which was created in 1926. Interestingly, it was not initiated by either
the Army or Navy, but was the product of legislation recommended by a civilian board. It was not
until the Second World War that it became necessary to integrate military decorations among the Armed
During the Second World War the trend was to establish decorations of the same name and design
for use by all of the Services. These decorations included the Legion of Merit, the Bronze Star,
and the Air Medal. Even though the criteria for awarding these "common" decorations varied
somewhat by branch of Service, the name and design of the medals themselves were the same.
Following the Second World War this trend was reversed with the development of the Commendation
and Achievement Medals, and most recently with the establishment by the Air Force of its Aerial
Achievement Medal. The only decoration common to all Services established since World War II is
the Meritorious Service Medal. However, beginning in 1963 (with the creation of the Joint Service
Commendation Medal), a whole new family of military deocrations was established for individuals
assigned to joint activities (they are refered to as DoD Decorations to distinguish them from
Service component decorations).
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