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The Silver Star for Bravery in the Military

What is a Silver Star? The Silver Star is the third-highest award for valor in combat presented by the United States to members of the U.S. military. The award is given for gallantry in action against an enemy of the United States, action while serving in military operations involving conflict with a foreign foe or action while serving with allied forces in armed combat against an opposing force where the United States in not the aggressor. If you’re a civilian, it is easy to understand if you’re asking the question, what is a silver star?

Established on July 19, 1932, the Silver Star Medal replaced the earlier Citation Star which was presented for gallantry from the Spanish-American War until 1918. The Army and Air Force omit the word “Medal” from the name of the award; the Navy, Marine Corps, and Coast Guard do not.

To qualify, actions for the Silver Star must be executed during combat operations and be of a lesser degree than would warrant the Distinguished Service Cross, Air Force Cross or Navy Cross. If you’re in the U.S. military, even if you are not involved in a combat arms profession, odds are great that you have never asked the question, what is a Silver Star?

Despite its name, the Silver Star is gold. A small silver star is positioned atop a much larger gold star which has a laurel wreath on it. The medal’s pendant hangs from a ribbon that is blue and is bisected by a thin vertical red stripe flanked on either side by a thin white stripe; a thin white line appears toward each edge. An inscription on the back reads “For Gallantry in Action.”

Better-known recipients of the Silver Star include Gen. Norman Schwarzkopf, Gen. Benjamin O. Davis Jr., Brig. Gen. Chuck Yeager who earned the medal twice and Command Sgt. Maj. Basil Plumley who also earned the medal two times and who is featured as a primary character in the movie, We Were Soldiers, played by actor Sam Elliott.  

More recently, in 2005, Army Sgt. Leigh Ann Hester became the first woman since World War II to earn the medal for engaging and killing enemies who attacked her unit during an ambush in Iraq. She became the first woman to receive the award for direct combat actions against an enemy. In 2007, Pfc. Monica Lin Brown earned the Silver Star as a medic in Afghanistan when she provided medical care and evacuation for soldiers wounded in an IED attack. She repeatedly used her body to shield the wounded from explosions and gunfire and she repeatedly exposed herself to enemy fire to assist the wounded.

Col. David Hackworth, a retired U.S. Army officer who fought in the Korean and Vietnam Wars was awarded 10 Silver Stars during his military career. He is likely the person awarded the most Silver Stars.

What is a Silver Star? Simply put, it is an award given for selfless gallantry in the face of danger against an enemy force. It is estimated that more than 100,000 Silver Stars have been presented since the medal was created in 1932. For those who have received it, answering the question what is a Silver Star is easy to answer because they have lived it.

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