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Gen. Marshall had a plan for Bronze Star

By JON R. ANDERSON | STARS AND STRIPES Published: June 5, 2000

Gen. George C. Marshall, who virtually invented the Bronze Star during World War II, had some advice when awarding the medal.

Lobbying President Franklin D. Roosevelt as the Allied liberation of Europe dragged on through the cold winter months of 1944, Marshall wrote that commanders needed a medal like the Bronze Star to recognize the hardships and sacrifices of the ground combat troops.

He offered these suggestions to ensure the Bronze Star didn’t stray from its intended purpose or get watered down:

  • "Make the award immediately at the time, so as to sustain or stimulate morale. There will be a minimum of misapplication if done in the field at the time. There are too many eyewitnesses present."

  • "Permit these young men who are suffering the hardships and casualties to enjoy their ribbons, which mean so much to them, while in uniform. They cannot wear them once they return to civilian attire."

  • "Keep a balance among the services involved in battle, the best to the man who is actually in the fighting. Something else, less impressive, to the men who labor behind the lines."

For Marshall, the Bronze Star was a matter of creating a balance between what the Army Air Forces were handing out and what the ground units could earn. The Air Medal had been approved two years earlier to improve airmen’s morale, but there was no equivalent for the grunts.

"The awards of the Air Medal have had an adverse reaction on the ground troops, particularly the infantry riflemen who are now suffering the heaviest losses, air or ground, in the Army, and enduring the greatest hardships," wrote Marshall in his memo to the President on Feb. 3, 1944.

However, Roosevelt wasn’t big on medals.

"I worry about the multiplicity of medals," Roosevelt had written the secretaries of the Army and Navy a month earlier as Marshall had begun his push for the new award.

"The danger of this proposed Bronze Star medal is that if it is to be awarded, " wrote Roosevelt, "the whole tendency will be to give it to people who have merely gone through an operation with normal performance of duty — what they were expected to do — and with enough luck not to get wounded."

Roosevelt’s biggest worry was that quantity of medals would dilute quality: "There is always the danger that we will cheapen the value of such things if we hand out too many of them."

Marshall countered, explaining "there is a definite and urgent need for the Bronze Star to provide the ground people with something corresponding with the Air Medal."

For Marshall it came down to morale.

"The fact that the ground troops, infantry in particular, lead miserable lives of extreme discomfort and are the ones who must close in personal combat with the enemy, makes the maintenance of their morale of great importance."

In the end, Marshall’s memo won Roosevelt over. The President signed off on the Bronze Star the next day, Feb. 4, with Executive Order 9419.


The Bronze Star investigation

Read more about Stripes’ special investigation into the awarding of Bronze Stars in Kosovo in 1999, which resulted in a Pentagon review and a decision by Congress to stop the awarding of Bronze Stars to personnel outside the combat zone.

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