Receiving a military award or two is definitely something that a soldier should be proud of. That’s a fact. The honor of being awarded one, whichever it is, does not only outwardly display the highlights of a soldier’s career but also speaks of the selfless service that the person rendered for a greater cause.

Brief History of the Ribbons

The use of what we might call the modern commemorative medal could be traced back to 1438 when the Italian painter Antonio Pisano invented the first medal ever that portrayed the Byzantine emperor John VIII Palaeologus. In the US, according to the US Army Center of History, “the first formal system for rewarding acts of individual gallantry by the nation’s fighting men was established by General George Washington on August 7, 1782. Designed to recognize ‘any singularly meritorious action,’ the award consisted of a purple cloth heart.”

There are differences between medals, decorations, and badges on a military uniform.

Medals are just that, they are metal discs attached to a ribbon. They are awarded to recognize service in battles, campaigns, and things related to the general non-combat record of accomplishments by the service member.

Decorations are similar to medals but they take the form of a star in bronze, silver, or gold in the case of the Medal of Honor, which is considered a Personal Decoration rather than a Service Medal(medallion) like the Good Conduct Medal. Decorations are for things above and beyond the call of duty, valor in combat, bravery, distinguished service,  They are related to actions in combat.

Badges denote professional skills and the qualifications of the service member, like rank insignia, aviation wings, and paratrooper wings.

If you think the honor and prestige of medals, decorations and medals would exempt them from getting humorous nicknames, you’d be mistaken. Nothing is safe from the biting sarcasm and wit of service members. As you will see,

The Enemy Marksmanship Badge, Also Known As The Purple Heart

Purple Heart was officially reinstituted on February 22, 1932, when General Douglas MacArthur, who was the Army Chief of Staff at that time, pushed to revive Washington’s The cloth Badge of Military Merit that died out. This award is given to service members who had been wounded, killed, or died later because of wounds caused by the enemy in battle. Earning one is certainly honorable but it may be the one decoration in the military nobody really wants, because by earning it you are marked as unlucky in battle.  For that reason, some prefer to call it “Enemy Marksmanship Badge” as a joke. The military has a very fatalistic sense of humor.

Earn three Purple Hearts and the military will usually grant a request to be relieved of combat duty, as at some point your luck will really run out and it looks bad from a public relations standpoint for the military to keep sending a guy wounded repeatedly in battle back into the fighting(unless he volunteers).

Purple Heart meme. (

 Special Warfare Insignia or “The Budweiser”

US Navy SEALs Special Warfare insignia. (US. Navy, Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons)

Also known as the “SEAL Trident,” this “badge” was established on 16 October 1970. It is issued to members of the US Navy who have completed the Basic Underwater Demolition/SEAL (BUD/S) training, completed SEAL Qualification Training (SQT), and have been designated as US Navy SEALs. It was originally issued both in silver and gold; for the enlisted and the officers, respectively. The silver was later discontinued. As badges go it’s pretty beefed up. The badge has an eagle clutching a US Navy anchor, trident, and flintlock-style pistol. The Navy community opts to call this insignia “The Budweiser” because it resembles the corporate logo of the Anheuser/Bush beer company. And because SEALs tend to gulp beer by case and keg.

National Defense Service Medal is the “Fire Watch Ribbon”

National Defense Service Medal.

The National Defense Service Medal (NDSM) is given to anyone who has served on active duty or as a reservist who served during the Korean War, Vietnam War, Gulf War, or during the global war on terrorism. Additionally, it is also given to servicemen who served during times of war, but it’s also pinned to recruits after graduating basic training. Some medal recipients don’t feel special as it is given easily; thus, they call it “Fire Watch Ribbon” since basic training doesn’t involve military actions more valorous than standing Fire Watch in the barracks or being the roving patrol checking the heads or latrines for guys jerking off in there at 0300 hours. As for the Navy, they call NDSM “Gedunk Medal,” which is slang for a vending machine that would dispense the medal for a dollar. Finally, some people decided to call it the “pizza stain” because its yellow and red color scheme makes it look like a stain of cheese and pizza sauce over their uniforms. The military just wants to start you off on the right foot, so when you go home on that first leave after boot camp you have something to show off to the family.

The Legion Of Merit is The ‘Blue Max of Baron’ German Fighter Aces

While the Legion of Merit is ranked 7th in order of precedence in military awards it shares with the Medal of Honor the distinction of being worn around the neck rather than pinned to the tunic.  It’s also unusual in that it is star-shaped decoration like combat decorations but is given for accomplishments that do not involve close combat with the enemy.  It is usually given to officers at the rank of Colonel and above, though it can also be given to senior enlisted men, which hardly ever happens.  Basically, it’s a medal for generals awarded to them by other generals as it does not require approval or nomination before Congress.

It also comes in four grades ranging from Chief Commander to Commander, to Officer and Legionnaire in the practice of European medals that come with titles of knighthood.  The medal has been awarded to Chiefs of State as well by Presidents like FDR.  So it’s kind of a confusing mess to figure it all out.

Anyway, it came to be known as the Blue Max which is a reference to the Pour le Mérite which is of course is a French term for Order of Merit, but the medal was created in 1740 by King Frederick of Prussia(German).  The Blue Max part comes from it being awarded to German WWI ace Max Emmelmann, who was the first flier to win the medal/decoration.  It was given to nearly 30 German Aces of WWI and WWII. The Pour le Mérite like the Legion of Merit also had classes of the award for politicians, military officers, and civilians.  The Blue Max has been awarded by Germany to Americans like Albert Einstein and Historian James Sheehan putting them in the company of U-boat commanders and generals like Erwin Rommel.