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UNITED STATES NAVAL INSTITUTE
Vol. 45, No. 4
Whole No. 194
A decoration in the sense here used is a badge or mark of honor to be worn upon the person as a reward for eminent or conspicuous service in battle or for honorable participation in a particular battle or campaign. Such decorations are usually bestowed by order of the sovereign or chief executive of a nation or by enactment of the parliamentary or congressional body. In many countries decorations are also bestowed for conspicuous services to the state in peace time as well as for notable achievements in the fields of art and literature. They include medals, crosses, campaign badges and ribbons and the stars and ribbons that constitute the insignia of the orders of knighthood.
War decorations may be primarily divided into several classes : the insignia of the orders of knighthood conferred for service in war, war crosses, special service medals, general service medals, long service medals, good conduct medals and badges, and medals or badges awarded for excellence in target shooting. The first class is unknown in the army and navy of the United States of America, since clause 8 of section 9 of Article I of the Constitution provides that "no title of nobility shall be granted by the United States: and no person holding any office of profit or trust under them, shall, without the consent of the Congress,
accept of any present, emolument, office, or title, of any kind whatever, from any king, prince, or foreign state."
War crosses are decorations made in the form of a cross and awarded for eminent or conspicuous service in war; special service medals are those awarded to persons by name for individual acts of gallantry or devotion to duty; general service medals are those conferred to all of the participants in a war or a particular campaign; long service medals and badges and good conduct medals and badges are issued to enlisted men for long and faithful service or for good conduct and attention to duty throughout the term of an enlistment; and those for excellence in target shooting are awarded for high percentages attained in the prescribed courses of rifle or pistol target practice.
With but very few exceptions, military medals are worn with the uniforms for which they are prescribed on the left breast of the coat between the center line and the point of the left shoulder, the medals being suspended from a holding bar by means of a ribbon of distinctive color or colors. The medals themselves are worn only with full dress uniforms, or with other uniforms when it is desired to do special honor to the occasion. With service and field uniforms, small sections of the distinctive ribbons are worn in lieu of the medals and in the same position on the coat. The exceptions referred to are noted in the descriptions of the different medals.
Where two or more decorations, medals or badges have been awarded to a person they are worn side by side suspended from one holding bar and if there are so many that they cannot be so worn in the space between the center line of the coat and the point of the shoulder the ribbons and medals are still attached to a single holding bar and overlapped so as to go in the allotted space.
The order in which the various decorations shall be arranged is prescribed in the official regulations of the army and navy. The position of honor is at the center or at the right end of the holding bar and the medals are usually arranged according to the dates of the events for which they were awarded.
The sections of the distinctive ribbons of decorations worn with service and field uniforms are arranged upon a holding bar in the same order as that prescribed for the medals, but they are never overlapped. In case there are so many ribbons that a single
bar will not accommodate them an additional bar is used, to be worn below the first bar and parallel to it.
Button rosettes made of silk of the colors of the distinctive ribbons are authorized for wear in the left lapel of the civilian coat, but only one such rosette should be worn at a time.
It is interesting to trace the origin and development of these decorations which have come to form such an important part of the uniforms of soldiers and sailors throughout the world, and which are very highly prized by the recipients as the outward and visible sign of the faithful service or of the deeds of gallantry which they commemorate.
Medals are pieces of metal struck from dies after the manner of coins for the purpose of commemorating some historical event or as rewards for service to the state in peace or war. They usually bear a design appropriate to the occasion which they commemorate, combined with inscriptions and dates of an explanatory nature or mottoes applicable to the particular deed or event.
The Greeks and Romans used medals as rewards or prizes in athletic contests and also to commemorate notable events, such as the accession of a sovereign or a great victory in war; but there is nothing extant to show that these medals were intended to be worn as a part of the uniform or dress of individuals.
The first use of medals as military decorations of which any historical record is found was by the Chinese about 60 A. D., when the Emperor Liu Siu of the Han dynasty caused medals to be made and issued to certain of his military commanders as rewards for valorous acts in battle. These medals were probably worn suspended from a cord or ribbon around the neck, as they were pierced near the upper edge, and old pictures show warriors wearing something of this nature.
It was not until many centuries later, however, that the custom of wearing medals as personal decorations became the fashion in the western world. During the reign of Henry VIII of England, 1509-1547, medals were worn as decorations by members of the nobility, but there is nothing to show that any of them were conferred by the state or sovereign as strictly military rewards for valiant service. The first medal so issued of which there is any authentic record was the so-called “ Ark and Flood” medal conferred by Queen Elizabeth in 1588 as a reward for war service in the English Navy and Army. This is a silver medal bear
ing on the obverse the effigy of the queen surrounded by the inscription, “ Elizabeth D. G. Angliae F. ET HI. REG.," and on the reverse a scene representing the ark floating on the waves in the rays of the sun, surrounded by the words, “SAEVAS TRANQUILLA PER VINDAS.”
A little later, in 1630, Gustavus Adolphus, “ The Whirlwind of the North,” conferred a military medal upon certain of his officers and men of the victorious Army of Sweden which, guided by his superb military genius, swept over Europe and founded a new school of military tactics. Other nations of Europe followed the custom of conferring medals for war service until it became universal.
In many of these medals the effigy of the sovereign was used as the principal motif for the design shown on the obverse and we find this custom still prevailing even in republics, as evidenced by the head of Lincoln upon the U. S. Army Civil War medals.
During the 330 years since the issue of the “Ark and Flood” medal by Queen Elizabeth the British Government has conferred upon her soldiers and sailors some 200 decorations to commemorate victories on sea and land or as rewards for individual acts of heroism in battle in her many wars, great and small. Following this lead other nations have conferred many such decorations, but none carried the custom to so great an extent as Great Britain.
The first medal conferred by the government of the United States was authorized by a resolution of Congress on March 25, 1776, when the news reached the seat of government at Philadelphia that the British had evacuated Boston on March 17, 1776. The resolution provided that the thanks of Congress be presented to General George Washington, commander-in-chief of the Continental Army, with a gold medal to commemorate the event. The obverse of the medal bore the effigy of Washington surrounded by the inscription, in Latin, “ The American Congress to George Washington, the Commander-in-Chief of the Army and the Assertor of Freedom," and the reverse bore a design depicting the British troops embarking in their ships and the American troops entering the town from the landward side, surrounded by the legend, “ The enemy for the first time put to flight.”
The next medal authorized by Congress was a gold one, presented to Captain John Paul Jones with the thanks of Congress
after the great sea fighter in the U. S. S. Bonhomme Richard had fought his famous battle with H. M. S. Serapis, September 23, 1779, as a result of which the Bonhomme Richard sank and the victorious American captain and his crew transferred to the Serapis and took her into a French port. It was during this battle that the British captain, Pearson, of the Serapis with his ship lying alongside of the Bonhomme Richard, noting that the latter ship was on fire and that her gunfire had greatly diminished, called upon the American ship to surrender. With characteristic courage and tenacity Captain John Paul Jones shouted back, "I have not yet begun to fight!” This reply encouraged the crew of the Richard to redouble their efforts and resulted in victory for them even with the loss of their own ship.
Thus was born one of the three rallying cries of the American Navy, the other two being the words of Captain Lawrence of the U. S. S. Chesapeake, who during the battle with H. M. S. Shannon on June 1, 1813, was mortally wounded and while being carried below decks cried out to his men, “ Don't give up the ship!” and the order of Admiral Farragut at the Battle of Mobile, August 5, 1864, “ Damn the torpedoes, go ahead!” given when the captain of his flagship, the Hartford, had reported to him that a torpedo had exploded in the channel ahead of the fleet.
During the War of 1812 a number of gold medals were struck in accordance with acts or resolutions of Congress, to be presented to the commanders of the American ships in the naval victories that marked the few bright spots in the history of that war. Among the victors so rewarded and the battles commemorated were Commodore Perry, Battle of Lake Erie, September 10, 1813; Captain James Lawrence, U. S. S. Hornet and H. M. S. Peacock, resulting in the capture of the latter ship, February 24, 1813 ; Captain Lewis Warrington, U. S. S. Peacock and H. M. S. Epervier, April 20, 1814, this being the same Peacock captured from the British, the battle resulting in the capture of the Epervier; Captain Thomas McDonough, commanding the American squadron at the Battle of Lake Champlain, September 11, 1814; Captain Jacob Jones, U. S. S. Wasp and H. M. S. Frolic, October 12, 1812; Captain Stephen Decatur, U. S. S. United States and H. M. S. Macedonian, October 25, 1812; and Captain Blakely, U.S. S. Wasp and H. M. S. Reindeer, June 28, 1814.