U.S. Navy Service and Campaign Medals

Related resources:

U.S. Navy Battle Streamers
Navy and Marine Corps Medal of Honor Recipients
The Navy Cross Medal
The Navy Good Conduct Medal

American bluejackets and Marines were without official medals or other visible signs of their overseas service or combat for the first 120 years of the Navy's existence, since orders, medals and decorations were seen as the trappings of royalty and empire and ran contrary to the republican spirit present at the founding of our country.

On rare occasions, Congress authorized special commemorative medals for heroes of dramatic naval victories, but these went chiefly to the vessels' commanding officer and were not medals intended for wear on the naval uniform.

Congress repeatedly showed a reluctance to authorize official medals commemorating service by the armed forces.

In 1905, the U.S. Army, with the encouragement of then-President Theodore Roosevelt, created a series of badges for wear on the uniform commemorating prior service in designated campaigns. The issuance of badges as part of the uniform fell under the authority of the individual services and required no congressional approval.

The U.S. Navy followed suit on 27 June 1908, authorizing a series of "badges" for service as distant in time as the Civil War, the Spanish-American War and the Boxer Rebellion.

The 1908 directive was but the first step in molding a system of service medals recognizing service by Navy and Marine Corps personnel in the far-flung corners of the world that continues to this day.

The bulk of the information in this section comes from the 1948 and 1953 U.S. Navy Awards Manuals. Changes and revisions occur over the years and, when appropriate, are noted. Several historical notes are annotated.

Most commemorative medals (those issued prior to Navy sanctioning in 1908) are not included here because they rarely are encountered. Two, however -- the Battle of Manila Bay Medal and the West Indies Naval Campaign Medal, 1898 -- are included because of their widespread issuance. Foreign service medals issued to U.S. forces typically are not featured separately, although they may be illustrated and identified alongside their parallel U.S. award.

Many of the medals illustrated are in the collection of the Navy Museum at the Naval Historical Center.

All photographs are used by permission of Cmdr. David L. Riley, USNR, from the book Uncommon Valor: Decorations, Badges and Service Medals of the U.S. Navy and Marine Corps, Marceline, Mo.: Walsworth Pub. Co., (c) 1980. 88 pp.

Back to Navy Main Index