The Silver Star is the third-highest award for bravery in combat given by the United States military. The Silver Star honors service personnel who display exceptional valor while engaged in military combat operations against an enemy force.
Personnel can also be honored for their service with friendly foreign troops in combat situations, even if the opposing force is one that the U.S. is not engaged in military conflict with. It also can be awarded posthumously.
Acts of heroism that earn a Silver Star, though not rising to the level of a Distinguished Service Cross or a Medal of Honor, must have been “performed with marked distinction,” according to the Pentagon.
The Silver Star was first awarded in 1932 to replace the Citation Star, which had been pinned on the ribbon of a service medal and given for gallantry from the Spanish-American War to World War I. The U.S. military then allowed World War I veterans to apply to have the Citation Star converted to the Silver Star.
Despite its name, the medal is mostly gold. Gold rays emanate from a tiny silver star, encircled by a golden laurel wreath and then a larger gold star. The pendant hangs from a ribbon striped in red, white and blue. An inscription on the back reads "For gallantry in action."
You may have heard of some of the military members who have received the Silver Star, but not all of them are household names. Well-known recipients include Lt. Col. Oliver North, General George S. Patton and General Douglas MacArthur, and Senators John Kerry and John McCain.
Army veteran Kerry earned his Silver Star in Vietnam in 1969 for rescuing an Army Green Beret who had been knocked into the Mekong River when an explosion rocked their Swift boat. Kerry pulled the soldier aboard with an injured arm.
Navy veteran McCain received his Silver Star and other commendations for his heroic actions in Vietnam as well. After his plane was shot down over Hanoi, McCain was taken prisoner and tortured by enemy soldiers.
McCain rejected his captors' offer of early release because he wanted other troops who had been held longer than he had to be released first. He also resisted the enemy's attempts to coerce a "confession" to be used for propaganda purposes.
Due to longtime military restrictions on women in combat, not as many women have been awarded the Silver Star. The first women to receive the honor were a trio of nurses, Jane Rignel, Linnie Leckrone and Irene Robar, who tended to and helped evacuate American troops from a hospital in France during World War
In 2005, Leigh Ann Hester became the first woman since World War II to win the medal, for her brave actions protecting her unit from an ambush in Iraq. Even though Pentagon rules restricted women from combat at the time, Hester was the first woman to receive the medal for combat actions.
Receiving the Silver Star
Unless it's being given posthumously, the Silver Star is awarded to a recipient in person, and usually with a ceremony. A commander-in-theater with at least the rank of three-star general must recognize the recipient for acts of valor.