Silver Star

Updated: November 2, 2022

There are several combat decorations a military member can earn through extraordinary service. The Silver Star, the third-highest of these honors, is presented to those who deserve to be recognized for gallantry in action.

Requirements For The Silver Star

To be awarded the Silver Star, the service member must meet the following criteria. The specific criteria for this award includes a requirement that the actions meriting the award exceed the criteria for “lesser” awards, but that do not meet the requirements for the Medal of Honor or a Distinguished Service Cross.

The actions recognized must have been performed, as described by the Department of Defense:

  • While engaged in action against an enemy of the United States.
  • While engaged in military operations involving conflict with an opposing foreign force.
  • 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 Silver Star is another military honor recognizing specific acts of valor over a designated time period, such as the time of an important battle.

Certain accomplishments in combat may be enough to warrant the award of the Silver Star. For example, fighter pilots who score a certain number of kills in the air in combat conditions (enough to be designated an “ace” pilot) could be enough to warrant the presentation of the Silver Star.

There have been few present-day conflicts requiring enough air combat to earn an ace designation. The number of aerial victories required to qualify as an ace are varied, but are usually five or more.

The Silver Star: Part Of A Unique Group

The three highest military awards for valor are unique in many ways. It’s difficult to earn one, requires service above and beyond the call of duty, and there’s an aspect of these honors that some don’t realize. You can only earn one Medal of Honor, one Distinguished Service Cross, and one Silver Star.

Here’s a look at a U.S. Army regulation covering awards and decorations:

“No more than one Medal of Honor or one Distinguished Service Cross or one Distinguished Service Medal shall be issued to any one person,” but for any later actions that may warrant the same kind of award, an oak leaf cluster or similar “device” as authorized by the military services would be used to designate a second honor of the same type.”

Posthumous Silver Star Recipients

The Silver Star may be awarded posthumously, and three notable examples all come from World War I. Three nurses serving in the U.S. Army were cited for Citation Stars between 1919 and 1920. Though cited, these troops were never awarded the Citation Star, and were honored posthumously with Silver Stars:

  • Jane Rignel, 42nd Division, for “giving aid to the wounded under heavy fire” in France on July 15, 1918.
  • Linnie Leckrone, 32nd Division, for “attending to the wounded during an artillery bombardment” in France on July 29, 1918.
  • Irene Robar, 32nd Division, for gallantry while “attending to the wounded during an artillery bombardment” in France on July 29, 1918.

In World War II, servicewomen on duty in Italy and the Philippines earned Silver Stars. Of that group, Cpl. Magdalena Leones is said to be the only female Asian-American to receive the medal.

Other notable Silver Star awardees include Army National Guard Sgt. Leigh Ann Hester for her service during an insurgent ambush on a convoy in Iraq in 2005, and Army Spc. Monica Lin Brown in March 2008, for her valor as a combat medic in Afghanistan.

A Brief History Of The Silver Star

In 1918, Congress established the precursor to the Silver Star, known as the Citation Star, awarded during World War I. Just prior to the next major conflict, the U.S. Secretary of War approved a new medal to replace the Citation Star. On July 9, 1932, the Silver Star was born.

Its existence was authorized by Congress for individual branches of military service starting with the Navy and Army in 1942, but there are service-specific authorizations in modern times for all branches.

Silver Star Unit Award Equivalent

The Silver Star is for individuals, and is not awarded to units. However, there are unit-level equivalents to the Silver Star, which vary depending on the branch of service. They include:

  • Air Force – Gallant Unit Citation
  • Army – Valorous Unit Award
  • Coast Guard – Coast Guard Unit Commendation
  • Navy– Navy Unit Commendation
  • Marine Corps – Navy Unit Commendation

Service-Specific Silver Stars

Depending on the branch of service, there are minor variations in the Silver Star. The Army and Navy present this medal as the Silver Star, but the Navy, Marine Corps, and Coast Guard all present it as the “Silver Star Medal,” which may not seem like much of a difference to civilians, but in the interest of preserving service-specific military traditions that distinction carries more importance to those in uniform.

Written by Team