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How to split US ribbons among the several branches?

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I have a collection of the following US medals:

1  Afghanistan Campaign Medal
2  Air Force Achievement Medal
3  Air Force Commendation Medal
4  Air Force Cross
5  Air Force Good Conduct Medal
6  Air Medal
7  Air Reserve Meritious Service Medal
8  Airman's Medal for Heroism
9  American Defense Service Medal
10  Armed Forces Expeditionary Medal
11  Armed Forces Reserve Medal
12  Army Achievement Medal
13  Army Commendation Medal
14  Army Distinguished Service Cross
15  Army Good Conduct
16  Army of Occupation Achievement Medal
17  Army Reserve Components Achievement Medal
18  Asiatic Pacific Campaign Medal.
19  Bronze Star
20  Congressional Medal of Honor
21  Defense Meritous Service Medal
22  Defense Superior Service Medal
23  Humanitarian Service Medal
24  Joint Service Achievement Medal
25  Korea Defense Service Medal
26  Legion of Merit
27  Marine Corps Good Conduct Medal
28  Meritous Service Medal
29  National Defense Service Medal
30  Navy and Marine Corps Achievement Medal
31  Navy and Marine Corps Medal
32  Phillipine Liberation Medal
33  Prisoner of War Medal
34  Purple Heart
35  Silver Star
36  Soldier’s  Medal
37  Southwest Asia Service Medal
38  Vietnam Service Medal



I bought 5 9-rbbon mounts from a US manufacturer and the idea is to split the collection into the Air Force, Army, Marine and Navy and Armed Forces collections. Medals that has ‘’Air Force’’, ‘’Army’’ etc in them is easy to group together since such medals are usually only issued to members of that specific branch.

The problem I envision is that quite a few of my medals are designated ‘’for the Armed Forces’’ which makes it tricky to decide to which part of my collection to allocate it to. Any ideas would be appreciated.

From the outside to limit the scope of the collection I decided not to collect Navy, Coast Guard or Merchant Marine medals but since the Marine Corps and the Navy share some medals I ended up with some medals from the Navy.

After some playing around late last night I have come up with the provisional split but I would dearly like any suggestions, comments or flaw in my logic in assigning a medal into a specific group to be questioned:


Armed Forces:

Silver Star, Defence Superior Service Medal, Legion of Merit, Defence Meritorious Service Medal, Meritorious Service Medal,

Joint Service Achievement Medal, Prisoner of War Medal, American Defence Service Medal, National Defence Service Medal, Armed Forces Expeditionary Medal, Vietnam Service Medal, Southwest Asia Service Medal, Afghanistan Campaign Medal, Korea Defence Medal, Humanitarian Service Medal, Phillipine Liberation Medal.


Air Force


Congressional Medal of Honour (Air Force Version), Air Force Cross, Airman’s Medal for Heroism, Purple Heart, Air Medal, Air Force Commendation Medal, Air Force Achievement Medal, Air Force Good Conduct Medal, Air Reserve Meritorious Service Medal




Army Distinguished Service Cross, Soldier’s Medal, Bronze Star, Army Commendation Medal, Army Achievement Medal, Army Good Conduct Medal, Army Reserve Components Achievement Medal, Army of Occupation Achievement Medal, Armed Forces Reserve Medal


Navy and Marine Corps


Navy and Marine Corps Medal, Air Medal, Navy and Marine Corps Achievement Medal, Marine Corps Good Conduct Medal.





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My real question with the above is: which branch of the military was more involved in a theater of water for example: The Phillipne Liberation Medal; although Douglas Macarthur was in the Army  he promised to return to the Phillipines to set them free from the Japanase it would be a classic mistake to assume that only the Army was involved in that part of the war.

i'm sure with enough research I can  proof that basically all components of the US military was involved in most of the campaiings for which a campaign medal was later awarded. Am I corrected that a campaign was started and the planners at the Pentagon thought it was going to take only the Army or the Navy or The Marines to accomplish the goal but that those divisions of the Army needed logistical Support from the Air Force etc.


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A few observations:

1. The Air Medal is not an Air Force-specific decoration. It is/was commonly awarded to all services. For example, in Vietnam, it was customary to award it to Army personnel like helicopter crews and aerial observers for each 25 hours of flying time over a combat zone. For the Air Force, it was usually awarded for a certain number of missions.

2. Remember that until 1947 the Air Force was part of the Army, so with regard to World War Two campaigns, the Army Air Force was usually wherever the Army was. Also, the Air Force-specific decorations like the Air Force Cross were created after the services were separated. So Army Air Force personnel in World War II received the same Army decorations as their fellow soldiers on the ground.

3. With regard to the Campaign in the Pacific, for various reasons, both political and strategic, the Allies had a two pronged-approach to Japan, which kept the Japanese from concentrating on one prong. Admiral Nimitz followed an island-hopping campaign through the Central Pacific, with Navy forces attacking the enemy and landing Marines and Army troops to seize various islands. Air bases were then set up on those islands, eventually close enough to allow bombing by Army Air Force bombers of Japan itself. Meanwhile, General MacArthur's forces moved across the land and islands around New Guinea in the direction of the Philippines. This involved mainly US and Australian Army ground troops, US Army Air Force and Royal Australian Air Force aircraft, and US Navy ships, as well as a large contribution by Philippine guerrilla forces. The Marines played a small role, as they were mostly involved in Nimitz's Central Pacific campaign. The last major land campaign in the Pacific, the attack on Okinawa, was a truly joint operation. The Tenth US Army combined an Army corps of four divisions and a USMC corps of 3 divisions, supported by a combined USAAF/USMC tactical air command and naval gunfire. When the commanding general of the Tenth Army was killed in action, a Marine general took temporary command.

4. Because the USMC was concentrated in the Pacific for operations there, there were few Marines in the European Theater. Amphibious operations by US forces, such as in North Africa, Sicily and Normandy, were conducted by Army troops.

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Dave Danner,

Thanks for the truly excellent analysis.

So if my deduction is correct it would be much more practical to create several fictional soldiers and after hours of extensive study to decide where each of these soldiers would have been deployed and build the ribbon rack ''per soldier'', not ''by service''. 

For example: Soldier A could have been involved in European campaigns which would eliminate him from island hopping with Admiral Nimitz while Soldier/Sailor B was busy island hopping with Nimitz and therefor it would be impossible for him to liberate western parts  of Europe. The same argument would hold with Soldier C who spent his time coughing up sand in North Africa under Monty and once again could not be found fighting in the jungles of Asia.The other thing with the Air Force would be to decide to which army group they were assigned but I think it's entirely possible that the same pilot could drop soldiers in Africa/Western Europe and then being assigned to bomb the Axis nations into submission.

Does that hypothesis make historical sense? 





Of course all this will take excruciating research into every medal I have and be 100% sure for which theater of war/period of time the particular medal was awarded.


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One approach would be to pick specific units and look at their various campaigns. That way, you would be learning some more military history while deciding how your notional "Soldier A" or "Sailor B" fit into it.

Some examples:

1. There are only a handful of US Army units which served in both the Asiatic-Pacific Theater and the European-African-Middle East Theater. These were units which served in the Aleutians campaign, and included the 87th Infantry Regiment, the 159th Infantry Regiment and the 1st Special Service Force (a joint US/Canadian unit). The 159th, after serving in the Aleutians, only arrived in Europe in 1945, so it saw limited action. The 87th Infantry, as part of the 10th Mountain Division, fought in the Northern Apennines and Po Valley campaigns in Italy. The 1SSF, the Devil's Brigade, received credit for the Anzio, Naples-Foggia, Rome-Arno, Southern France and Rhineland campaigns, including an arrowhead for the assault landing in Southern France.

2. The US units which probably saw the most action in Europe in World War II were the regiments of the 3rd Infantry Division, who served in North Africa, Sicily, Italy, France and Germany. Audie Murphy's regiment, the 15th Infantry Regiment, had 10 campaign credits in World War II - Algeria-French Morocco, Tunisia, Sicily, Naples-Foggia, Anzio, Rome-Arno, Southern France, Rhineland, Ardennes-Alsace and Central Europe. Four of these - Algeria-French Morocco, Sicily, Anzio and Southern France - were assault landings for which the arrowhead was authorized. The division received the Presidential Unit Citation for the Colmar Pocket, while several companies and battalions of the 15th Infantry received the PUC for other actions. The regiment also received the French Fourragere. The division and its regiments also served in the occupation of Germany and in the Korean War.

3. The 32nd Infantry Division was one of the first US Army formations to enter service under MacArthur in the Southwest Pacific. It joined the Australians in the Papua campaign in late 1942, and continued on in the New Guinea, Leyte and Luzon Campaigns. Its regiments received the US and Philippine Presidential Unit Citations. The division also served in the occupation of Japan.

There's an infantry bias in my examples, mainly because I was an infantry officer, but you can also research the roles played by other units - armor, artillery, aviation, etc.

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Thanks for all the replies.

Dave Danner, I thought I was an information junkie but it seems you outclass me.

Some other factors I obviously would have to keep in mind is the creation date of the medal since a soldier decorated during World War i couldn't be around to be decorated for Desert Storm. Another factor is a reasonable estimate of a soldier's working life which I guess would be an absolute maximum of 40 years if he was lucky enough to survive every bullet ever fired at him.



Edited by Wessel Gordon
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