The Bronze Star, also known as the Bronze Star Medal or BSM for short, is a military medal awarded for heroic achievement, heroic service, meritorious achievement, or meritorious service in a combat zone. Wear of a “V” device on the medal is authorized for acts of valor in combat.
This award may be presented to members of the Army, Navy, Air Force, Space Force, Marine Corps, and Coast guard. It may also be presented to members of foreign militaries and even civilians.
A Brief History of the Bronze Star
Established through an executive order, the Bronze Star was designed in 1943 by Colonel Russell Reeder. Some sources hold that Reeder felt it would improve morale if those who led soldiers in the field had the ability to reward exceptional service.
Reeder pointed to the creation of the Air Medal as proof that a “boots on the ground” version was needed. In fact, his original name for the award was the “Ground Medal”.
The Air Medal had been in use for two years when Reeder was planning his own version of it for ground forces. The Bronze Star was authorized by President Franklin D. Roosevelt in Executive Order 9419, 1944, (made retroactive to 7 December 1941).
Amending The Executive Order That Created The BSM
The conditions for earning the BSM would change thanks to President John F. Kennedy, who amended Executive Order 9419 through Executive Order 11046, 1962. This allowed the expansion of qualifying criteria to include those serving with friendly militaries.
Through the amendment, the BSM may be presented to “any person… while serving in any capacity in or with” the United States. As a result, non-U.S. troops were honored with the Bronze Star in World War 2, Korea, Vietnam, the Persian Gulf War, Iraq War, and Afghanistan.
The criteria for earning a Bronze Star would be amended a second time. The result of those changes allowed those serving on or after Sept. 11, 2001 to be awarded a Meritorious Service Medal instead of the Bronze Star for achievements in a combat theater.
Who May Award The Bronze Star
The Bronze Star Medal may be awarded by:
- Secretary of the Army
- Secretary of the Navy
- Secretary of the Air Force
- Secretary of Homeland Security (Coast Guard)
- Military commanders, or other officers the Secretary may designate
Who May Be Awarded A BSM?
Any military member in any branch of service, serving after after Dec. 6, 1941, who distinguishes themselves by heroic or meritorious achievement or service, “not involving participation in aerial flight”.
The conditions of the award include a requirement that the meritorious acts or service happen:
- While engaged in an action against an enemy of the United States or
- While engaged in military operations involving conflict with an opposing foreign force or
- While serving with friendly foreign forces engaged in an armed conflict against an opposing armed force in which the United States is “not a belligerent party”
The requirements to earn a BSM are lower than those require to earn the Silver Star. They must be less than what is required to earn the Legion of Merit, but must still be recognized as valor, meritorious service, etc.
Bronze Star Controversy
In 2012, following reports of Air Force members being subject to harassment after receiving non-combat BSMs, a review of BSM award policies was undertaken. At this time there was a debate over whether the Air Force was too liberal in its policies for reviewing BSM submissions.
This was not the first time the award went under scrutiny. At least one published news item from November 2000, by a Tribune Companies publication includes this line:
“The Air Force and Navy brass tainted that award earlier this year by passing out dozens of Bronze Stars for service in Kosovo to officers and enlisted people who never left home or never got within hundreds of miles of the fighting.”
According to the Air Force, non-combat awards of the Bronze Star are reviewed on a case-by-case basis and that is what helps maintain “the integrity of the award”. There were other controversial instances of BSMs being awarded in circumstances that warranted further review.
Notable BSM Awardees
Many have received the Bronze Star and a good number of them are famous or semi-famous names. They include:
- Beau Biden
- Hugh Carey (New York State Governor)
- Leonard F. Chapman Jr. (24th Commandant of the Marine Corps)
- Joseph S. Clark Jr. (Mayor of Philadelphia)
- Erastus Corning 2nd (Mayor of Albany, New York)
- Tom Cotton (Senator)
- Alan Cozzalio (Army helicopter pilot)
- Robert E. Cushman Jr.(25th Commandant of the Marine Corps)
- Dieter Dengler
- Dale Dye (Actor)
- Frank Sutton (Actor)
- Jeremiah Denton (Senator)
- Mark Esper (27th Secretary of Defense)
- Henry Fonda (Actor)
- Maurice R. Greenberg (CEO of American International Group (AIG))
- Eric Greitens (Governor of Missouri)
- Bob Gunton (Actor)
- Colin Powell (65th US Secretary of State)
- Elliot Richardson (11th US Secretary of Defense)
- Max Rose (Representative)
- Rod Serling (Writer and creator of The Twilight Zone)
- Raymond P. Shafer (Governor of Pennsylvania)
- Lloyd Stowell Shapley (Mathematician)
Joe Wallace is a 13-year veteran of the United States Air Force and a former reporter for Air Force Television News
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