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US military - different orders of precedence?

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I have a total of 33 US medals (a mixture of Army, Navy, Marine and Air Force) and spent some time on a website building an imaginary ribbon-rack. Depending on which branch I picked at the beginning there seemed to be different orders of precedence for each branch of the military or is it just me imagining things?


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For those medals which are common to the services, the order of precedence is the same.  However, service-specific medals can violate the general order of precedence, though usually the service-specific ones at the higher levels (e.g. DSC, Navy Cross, and AF Cross) would usually fit right into the other services' orders of precedence at the same level.  Another problem is that some unit level awards (e.g. Joint Meritorious Unit Award) are worn on the right chest in some services, and on the left chest in other services-- thus, they will also violate the general order of precedence if worn on the left chest.  Foster and Borts, in their book "A Complete Guide to All United States Military Medals, 1939 to Present" give a good overview of this, and provide complete charts of precedence for each service.

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Also, depending on the time frame of the ribbon bars construction, the order may change.  The Purple Heart was moved up in precedence back in the early 80s if memory serves me correctly. It used to be the last medal before campaign ribbons. 

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It ranked before the Good Conduct Medal, after the MSM, Air Medal and the Commendation and Achievement Medals. It was moved up to after the Bronze Star in 1985.

The Navy Cross is another interesting case. It was created in 1919 and made retroactive, so there are a large number of Marines and Navy personnel (mostly medical personnel and one chaplain) who received both the Army Distinguished Service Cross and the Navy Cross for the same action. Also, until 1942, the Navy Cross ranked after the Navy Distinguished Service Medal and could be awarded for meritorious service as well as valor. In 1942, the Navy changed this and Navy practice now paralleled Army practice, with the Medal of Honor at the top, the service cross as the second highest award and for valor only, and the DSM as the third highest decoration and highest decoration for merit. The Navy and Marine Corps Medal was also established for acts of valor not involving enemy action, for which a number of Navy Crosses had been awarded in the interwar period. It bothered me all the way back in the 1980s when the movie first came out that Kevin Costner's character in No Way Out should not have received a Navy Cross for the actions shown in the movie.

Edited by Dave Danner
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