Awarded for Meritorious Achievement both the Air Medal and the Bronze Star were created as gap fillers due to the numbers of serving personnel in the US military during World War Two. The Air Medal established in 1942 for meritorious achievement during aerial flight by the then Secretary of War, Henry L Stimson and is still awarded to this day. It was felt a second decoration was required to address those serving and although conceived initially by the Army Air Force was also adopted by the Navy but at the same time not wanting to cheapen the award of the Distinguished Flying Cross. The Medal was authorized by President Roosevelt in May 1942.
The Office of the Quartermaster General selected the design submitted by Walker Hancock and this is the design we see today of a sixteen pointed star with an eagle in flight carrying in each talon a lightning strike. A raised circular disc on the reverse is left blank for engraving. Awarded retrospectively from September 8th 1939.
Hancock’s design was approved by the Secretary of War on 31 December 1942. Hancock, who was serving in the Army at the time had been assigned to the G1 War Department to work on his design for the medal. The medal was finally approved by the Chief of Staff, August 1942 with a ribbon design prepared by the Office of the Quartermaster General. Awarded to all service members who distinguished themselves by meritorious achievement while participating in aerial flight for combat and non combat single acts of merit or sustained operational activities against an armed enemy of the United States.
Like its counterpart the Bronze Star, the Air Medal is not uncommon as many were awarded especially during WW2 to members of the RAF who aided the US Air Force on operations in the European Theatre. That’s why a number of these medals turn up quite regularly at medal and militaria shows in the UK. Devices include V and No 3 for the Army, Gold, Silver & Bronze Star for the Navy & Marine Corp and Oak leaves for the Air Force.
Originally to be called the Ground Medal as a response to the Air Medal, the Bronze Star was authorised 4th February 1944 and was awarded retrospectively from or after 7th December 1941. Awarded to those members of the United States armed service who have distinguished themselves by heroic or meritorious achievement in operations against an armed enemy. The medal however is not given to those involved in aerial flight.
Designed by Bailey, Banks and Biddle the medal is in a shape of a five pointed star with a small raised star in the centre. The reverse has a raised centre with the inscription “Heroic or Meritorious Achievement”. The ribbon displays the colours of old glory with a thin blue centre stripe and two outer narrow white with wide red stripes inside two outer white. Devices include a V for combat service valor with Bronze & Silver oak leaves for subsequent awards for the Army and a V device with Silver & Gold stars for the Navy, Marine Corp and Coast Guard.
The most common WW2 seen on the market is the Army issued slot loop brooch whereas the Navy issues had a much thicker planchett and a wrap brooch.
Both medals are similar in some ways as not being over elaborate but remain tactile and within reach of those on a limited budget but who want to obtain a good quality representation of an award that was no doubt earned by its recipient. Both the Air Medal and the Bronze Star are still awarded today for the same criteria as first awarded during World War Two.