American military decorations originated during the American Revolution. At George Washington’s suggestion, the Purple Heart, known then as the Badge of Military Merit, is the oldest United States medal given in recognition for valor in combat – though not the only one given during the war – the other was the Fidelity Medallion, given awarded in 1780 to the three militia privates who captured Major André, Benedict Arnold’s British contact in his betrayal of the United States. Only three were awarded, consisting of a cloth badge with a braided silver border. After the war, military decorations lapsed until the Civil War, when the Medal of Honor was introduced 1861 by the Navy, followed by the Army in 1862 and the Air Force in 1965. The Medal of Honor, is the oldest and highest-ranking continuously issued American combat decoration. It has since been followed by a wide-ranging series of decorations recognizing individuals for participation in campaigns, service, combat distinction and military proficiency, as well as awards for military units. Each decoration has a medal and a ribbon associated with it to be worn for different occasions.
Military medals are presented as awards for service in a specific campaign or theater of operations or for achievement in a specific role. These include combat action awards, marksmanship awards, Victory medals and a large range of other citations for efficiency, achievement and conduct for units or individuals.
The Medal of Honor is the highest military decoration awarded by the United States. Created in late 1861 members of the U.S. Armed Forces earn the medal for gallantry and intrepidity above and beyond the call of duty. The President often personally bestows the honor to the recipient or their next of kin. Since their introduction in the Civil War more than 3,400 Medals of Honor have been presented.