National Geographic : 1943 Oct
The Heraldry of Heroism BY ARTHUR E. Du Bois Chief, Heraldic Section, Office of the QuartermasterGeneral, United States War Department DECORATIONS and medals stand for more than the Nation's grateful ac knowledgment of fidelity. They are a constant incentive to performance of out standing deeds. In World War II United States decora tions and medals are more numerous and beautiful than ever before. War's changing styles, introducing new weapons and tactics, have created new symbols of courage, achieve ment, and proficiency. A few years ago, after the Purple Heart was revived and the Silver Star was authorized for the United States military service, it was reported that "there now is no act of bravery or distinguished service on the part of an officer or enlisted man which is not recog nizable by an appropriate award." However, soon after Pearl Harbor it was determined that the ever-changing conditions of warfare required further awards for our heroes. A military or naval hero is a man who has the strength of mind and spirit to en counter danger with fortitude, firmness, and courage. If he possesses these qualities, the chances are that he will be singled out by his com rades in arms, who will acclaim his honors. Through the Nation's acknowledgment of his fidelity he may then be accorded a decora tion. All over the United States a grateful people sees its returning heroes, wearing rib bons on their uniforms. For the first time a comprehensive series to date of these honorable symbols is repro duced in color (Plates I through XII). Many decorations are now being awarded on the field of battle. But they do not re main on the uniform; the ribbons are used in their stead. With few exceptions, decora tions have distinctive outlines, while medals are always in the form of disks. A decoration is conferred on an individual for a specific act of gallantry, and the various requirements are fully described (page 414). Medals are distributed to those who have participated in designated wars, campaigns, expeditions, or who have performed services (page 436). This distinction may appear confusing in view of several decorations having the word "medal" in their official titles. Thus the Medal of Honor, the Nation's highest award, often referred to as the Congressional Medal, is actually a decoration. Decorations and medals are not officially classified as badges. A badge is given for some special proficiency, such as marksmanship, parachuting, and aviation (page 440). Women Eligible for Many Awards Women are eligible for a number of awards. For their exclusive wear, the latest service ribbon has been designed (page 434). Moss tone green, edged with old gold, the colors adopted for the WAAC, is the ribbon that the WACS who served in the former organization will soon be wearing. It represents the first medal planned for women only. The Merchant Marine Distinguished Serv ice Medal represents a nation's dependence on the seamen who sail its merchant vessels regardless of torpedoes and bombs (Plate II). The new civilian Medal for Merit may be awarded to Americans and civilians of other nations in the performance of an exceptionally meritorious act in furtherance of the war efforts of the United Nations (Plate II). Previously, the United States bestowed on foreigners only the decorations given to its own fighting men. Now the Legion of Merit, a series of four decorations, has been created, and certain of these are being conferred upon members of the armed forces of friendly powers (Plate I). Chief Commander, the Legion's highest de gree, has been given to China's Generalissimo Chiang Kai-shek. Like others receiving any degree of the Legion of Merit, he was cited for "extraordinary fidelity and exceptional military conduct in the performance of out standing services." Second degree is Commander. First to re ceive it, or any of the degrees, was Brazil's Brig. Gen. Amaro Soares Bittencourt (412). Third degree is Officer. First to receive it were Col. Johanes K. Meijer of the Royal Netherlands Army, Maj. Herbert J. Thomp son, British Army, and Maj. Stephan M. Dobrowalski, Polish Army. Fourth degree (Legionnaire) is also con ferred upon members of foreign armies. Legion of Merit without degree is conferred on U. S. forces. First award was to a woman, Lt. Ann Agnes Bernatitus, heroic Navy nurse from Bataan and Corregidor (page 443). Congress last year authorized officers and enlisted men to receive during the war, and for a year thereafter, decorations from co belligerents and other American republics.