4-339 Memorandum for Admiral King, April 10, 1944

Publisher: The Johns Hopkins University Press
Date: April 10, 1944

Subject: World War II

Memorandum for Admiral King

April 10, 1944 [Washington, D.C.]

Subject: Award of Combat Decorations.

I gave a careful reading to your memorandum of April 1 on the subject of decorations and had the statistics analyzed.1 I do not believe it is practicable to make a numerical comparison on the basis of strength ratios between the two services. So many other factors enter into the picture, such as the numbers actually engaged in combat, the nature and duration of the combat (day by day operations of the strategic Bombing Force for example), etc., that it appears impracticable to fix a ratio or to assure that awards by the two services would be approximately equal in proportion to respective strengths.2

Since our regulations are very similar, it seems to me that the difference lies in the attitude of the two departments and of the commanders in the field toward the use of decorations and their value in sustaining morale. As a result of my observation in the A.E.F. battles in France, it is my belief that decorations are one of our greatest morale boosters for the people who are doing the actual fighting, particularly under heavy and continuing pressure as in the strategical bombing or the hardships and daily casualties in prolonged infantry fighting. I have impressed upon all Army commanders the importance of seeking out and promptly recognizing acts of heroism or of meritorious achievement. I do not want to repeat the mistake we made in the last war of being niggardly with our decorations while the fighting is on and then attempting to make up for it by post-war action, which resulted in favoring the importunate and neglecting the modest, but usually more deserving men.

Almost 90 per cent of the Army decorations to date have been in the Air Medal and the Distinguished Flying Cross. I suppose that, without analysis, 135,000 of these two awards appears excessive. Yet, when it is considered that at the end of 1943 the Army Air Forces had flown 392,000 combat sorties, exposing 1,375,000 individuals to extreme dangers (enemy fire, loss of feet and hands by frostbite, operational crashes in vile weather over U.K. and Europe) and in the 8th Air Force alone have suffered up to 28 per cent losses on single missions, my concern is not that there have been too many of these awards but that there may not have been sufficient. The high morale of the Army Air Forces despite heavy losses week by week over Europe and the value that our young combat crews place upon their decorations is sufficient to convince me that our policy is right, especially when you consider that we have probably flown more sorties in the past three months than in the entire previous year and will further increase the rate with better weather.

Because I have seen what we accomplished by our liberal use of the Air Medal in the Air Forces, I initiated the action which eventually resulted in obtaining the President’s approval to the Bronze Star for both services.3 I wanted a decoration corresponding to the Air Medal that could be used with equal freedom among the ground forces, particularly the infantry, who, when they do get into action, not only bear the brunt of the casualties but remain under fire for long periods in conditions of great hardship.

Not only am I convinced that the policy regarding Army combat decorations to date has been a wise one, but I would be extremely reluctant to do anything that would change the present attitude of our commanders, which I have personally and so painstakingly built up.

I will conclude by stating that there was little if anything that I should desire to repeat of the practices of 1917-1918, and thereafter, with which I was intimately and officially familiar.4

Document Copy Text Source: George C. Marshall Papers, Pentagon Office Collection, Selected Materials, George C. Marshall Research Library, Lexington, Virginia.

Document Format: Typed memorandum.

1. On April 1 Admiral Ernest J. King brought to General Marshall’s attention the differences in practices of the army and navy in awarding the Distinguished Flying Cross and Air Medal. He presented an analysis by the Navy Department Board of Decorations and Medals during the period December 7, 1941, to February 29, 1944:


Medal of Honor3646

Distinguished Service Cross1179

Navy Cross1360

Distinguished Service Medal300110

Legion of Merit2493549

Silver Star Medal103852243

Distinguished Flying Cross151681000

Soldiers Medal2362

Navy and Marine Corps Medal845

Air Medal117793 1938


(Gold stars (Navy) and Oak Leaf Clusters (Army) having been included as awards of the medal concerned)

Deducting the number of Distinguished Flying Crosses and Air Medals which have been awarded (Army 132,961; Navy 2,938), gives a total remaining awards for the Army of 16,754 and Navy 5,153. Army personnel is approximately three times greater than that of the Navy; one-third of the remaining Army awards is 5,585, which compares closely with the total Navy awards for other than aerial flight.

King noted that army regulations and naval policy were similar for each award and that both required an act above and beyond that normally expected. It was King’s opinion that “both uniformity of policy and practice in the Army and Navy are desirable.” (King Memorandum for General Marshall, April 1, 1944, NA/RG 165 [G-1, 200.6].)

2. Major General Miller G. White’s G-1 Division prepared a draft of this document, which Marshall edited. White called to Marshall’s attention “the fact that whereas the Army has been quite conservative in the award of the higher ranking decorations and more liberal as the decorations decrease in value, the Navy seems to have obtained no such result.” White had long noted the difference in attitude toward decorations in the army and navy. “Our policy reflects the lessons you have pounded on to us. The Navy Board’s attitude is that of World War I,” wrote White. (White Memorandum for the Chief of Staff, April 7, 1944, ibid.)

3. For information regarding the Bronze Star Medal, see Marshall Memorandum for the President, February 3, 1944, Papers of George Catlett Marshall, #4-225 [4: 261-63].

4. For further information regarding General Marshall’s views on service decorations, see the following document (Papers of George Catlett Marshall, #4-340 [4: 396-99].

Recommended Citation: ThePapers of George Catlett Marshall, ed.Larry I. Bland and Sharon Ritenour Stevens(Lexington, Va.: The George C. Marshall Foundation, 1981- ). Electronic version based on The Papers of George Catlett Marshall, vol. 4, “Aggressive and Determined Leadership,” June 1, 1943-December 31, 1944 (Baltimore and London: The Johns Hopkins University Press, 1996), pp. 394-396.

Digital Downloads




Holding Rights: Public Information
Holding ID: 4-339

Rights: Public Information