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Memorandum for the President
(Through the Secretaries of War and Navy)
February 3, 1944 [Washington, D.C.]
Subject: Medals and Decorations.
The Secretary of War has informed me of your desire that he discuss our present decorations with high ranking officers in order to arrive at a more definite policy. The subject was brought to your attention by the joint Army and Navy recommendation for the establishment of a new Bronze Star decoration.1
The latter proposal was initiated by me personally after I had obtained the comments of overseas commanders and had observed first hand the effect of the awards of the Air Medal upon combat personnel of the Air Forces. The prompt award of this Medal has been of tremendous value in sustaining morale and fighting spirit in the face of continuous operations and severe losses.
The awards of the Air Medal, however, have had an adverse reaction on the ground troops, particularly the Infantry riflemen who are now suffering the heaviest losses, air or ground, in the Army, and enduring the greatest hardships. The most satisfactory solution I can find is some such decoration as the proposed Bronze Star. Otherwise to meet the situation we would inevitably be forced to lower the standards for the award of our present decorations for exceptional heroism.
Decorations and service ribbons are of real value to the war effort only if promptly bestowed. In the first World War we were quite niggardly about it during the fighting and then after the Armistice, particularly during the early 1920’s, a flock of awards was made, too frequently the result of pressure, political and personal. The Victory Medal with its bronze and silver stars was authorized too late to have any effect on the efficiency of the Army. I received a ribbon for service in Germany twenty-three years after I returned to the United States.
From my point of view there are three important factors to be considered:
a. Make the awards immediately, at the time, so as to sustain or stimulate morale. There will be a minimum of misapplication if done in the field at the time. There are too many eye witnesses present.
b. Permit these young men who are suffering the hardships and casualties to enjoy their ribbons, which mean so much to them, while in uniform. They cannot wear them once they return to civilian attire.
c. Keep a balance among the services involved in battle, the best to the man who is actually in the fighting. Something else, less impressive, to the men who labor behind the lines.
There is definite and urgent need for the Bronze Star to provide the ground people with something corresponding to the Air Medal. I want to use it now, while it will do some good, not after the war is over.
There will inevitably be unfavorable reactions or misapprehensions resulting from the wearing of numerous ribbons by men who have been transferred from theater to theater, or especially those on duty in Washington who serve for short periods overseas—participating in actual landing or bombing operations in many cases. But these are a very few people, and I am concerned about the thousands who never see Pennsylvania Avenue and are doing their best in some difficult or dangerous or isolated post overseas. The fact that the ground troops, infantry in particular, lead miserable lives of extreme discomfort and are the ones who must close in personal combat with the enemy, makes the maintenance of their morale of great importance. The frequency of air thrusts against the enemy and the steady and heavy losses made it advisable to take special measures for the Air people.2
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. “I worry a bit about the multiplicity of medals both in and out of the Service,” President Roosevelt had told the secretaries of war and navy. “The danger of this proposed bronze star medal is that if it is to be awarded for ‘minor acts of heroism or meritorious achievement in combat areas, or in connection with combat operations’, the whole tendency will be to give it to people who have merely gone through an operation with normal performance of duty—what they were expected to do—and with enough luck not to have been wounded.” The president noted that “the coats of a lot of people are being loaded down with various kinds of service medals,” and he gave an example of a man who had been in the armed forces only a few months and was already entitled to several service medals. “After five or six months in uniform, he is beginning to look like a Christmas tree.” Roosevelt asked for a “more definite policy in regard to all medals, citations and decorations. There is always danger that we will cheapen the value of such things if we hand out too many of them.” (Roosevelt Memorandum for the Secretary of War and the Secretary of the Navy, January 11, 1944, GCMRL/G. C. Marshall Papers [Pentagon Office, Selected].)
2. The president approved. On February 4, 1944, Roosevelt issued Executive Order 9419 establishing the Bronze Star Medal for “award to any person who, while serving in any capacity in or with the Army, Navy, Marine Corps, or Coast Guard of the United States on or after December 7, 1941, distinguishes, or has distinguished, himself by heroic or meritorious achievement or service, not involving participation in aerial flight, in connection with military or naval operations against an enemy of the United States.” (Code of Federal Regulations: Title 3—The President, 1943-1948 [Washington: GPO, 1957], p. 301.) See Marshall Memorandum for the President, February 6, 1944, Papers of George Catlett Marshall, #4-228 [4: 266]. For further information regarding Marshall’s views on decorations, see Marshall Memorandum for Admiral King, April 10, 1944, and Marshall to Martin, April 10, 1944, Papers of George Catlett Marshall, #4-339-#4-340 [4: 394-99].
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. 261-263.