Compared with their World War II counterparts, today's senior U.S. military officers are so weighed down with medals that they appear in danger of listing to port. The military at first disdained all decorations as undemocratic. Not until the Civil War did it hand out medals, and then there was only one kind: the Medal of Honor. In World Wars I and II, the list grew—the Navy Cross, the Distinguished Service Cross, the Silver Star and others—and after World War II came a great expansion of good-conduct decorations. There's been little talk of reducing the list. "It would be like starting employee-of-the-month and deciding you don't want to do it anymore," says Doug Sterner, a medals expert who runs a Web site called HomeOfHeroes.com. Medals still have meaning. A chestful of them is a kind of walking résumé. But there is something slightly opéra bouffe about lieutenants wearing more than Ike on D-Day.
Join the Discussion