Guidelines on date of issue of US Medals (Part 1).

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Obverse of Medal
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Reverse.

One of the comments to a post I submitted to a forum was reference to the slotted loop suspenders on a Silver & Bronze Star. I must admit I hadn’t paid that much attention to this when I bought these and didn’t suspect these were early issue as I only paid a few pounds for each of them from a car boot sale. At the time I only had a limited amount of US medals in my collection but this response intrigued me to research further and this is what started my interest in looking at the dates and manufacture of US Awards & Medals. One of the ways to date US medals is by using information gathered from reference books and other sources found on the web to see when the medals were first established or issued but this won’t give you a true manufacture date, however looking for a maker mark or the type of brooch the medal is suspended on will give clues as to the period of issue. Boxed medals can have a contract date and this can also narrow down the period it was made. Although the modern or current issue medals are all on a narrow 9mm crimp brooch there are medals made from the post war years up to the early 1990’s that have the wider 12mm brooch. There was also the slotted loop suspender brooch which has been used well beyond the 1940’s up to the early Sixties. Purple Hearts were still being issued with a slot brooch suspender as late as the Iraq War (2003) due to the amount ordered for the Invasion of Japan in WW2 (500,000) which of course did not occur after Japan’s surrender following the dropping of the Atomic bombs on Hiroshima and Nagasaki. Up to June 2010 an estimated 1.9 million Purple Hearts had been issued since the medal was established in 1932, over 500,000 of these since the end of WW2. But what of the other awards, 6,900 Navy Crosses since 1937, 13,400 Distinguished Service Crosses since 1918 and 197 Air Force Crosses since 1964.

Take into consideration also the amount of service personnel of the United States who served their country. Over 2 million in WW1, more than 12 million in WW2 (with over 1 million casualties), 326,000 in Korea, 2.5 million in Vietnam (half a million saw service in 1968 alone) and 425,000 in the first Gulf War. There’s a potential for an awful lot of medals to be available for sale.

It is difficult to timeline the year of issue for the different styles of medal brooch due to different manufacturers and stock size. The slotted loop brooch was more economical to produce than the more expensive earlier wrap around type and has been seen on the Good Conduct Medal 1942 and the Bronze Star produced circa 1944.

Unfortunately, there is no way to accurately determine when a medal was manufactured as when the medal order was placed the order would specify the type of brooch required and this could be altered by the manufacturer if there were stocks of unused brooches available. The manufacturer would apply for a change in the contract to let them use up old stock. Hence the crossover from Loop to 12mm crimp and to 9mm crimp. Some examples I have seen are: a Navy Expeditionary Medal in original packet dated December 1981 on a 12mm crimp, a Navy Commendation medal which has the loop and crimp suspender combined but which dates from the Fifties or Sixties. The Navy Achievement and Air Force Good Conduct medals on a slotted loop suspender which were not awarded until circa 1961. (There is some discrepancy between Kerrigan and Foster/Borts on the issue of the Air Force Good Conduct medal. Kerrigan states that it was authorized July 1960 and Foster/Borts 1963?)

The Loop and Crimp combined is relatively rare and these can be found on Navy and Army Commendation medals, Medal for Humane Action as well as the Armed Forces Reserve Medal. Most common on the WW2 campaign medals is the crimp style brooch but the American Defense and Victory Medal will have either the crimp or loop brooch. There are Asiatic Pacific or EAME service medals which were issued by the US Mint, for the Navy, USMC & Coast Guard with loop brooch suspenders available. I have yet to encounter a WW2 Campaign medal on a loop suspender.

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Left: Wrap Suspender. Middle: Slotted Loop. Right: Modern Crimp with Component Parts.

 

 

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L-R: Navy Cross on full wrap suspender, Purple Heart on Slot Loop, Army Commendation on split loop/Crimp & Navy Achievement on 12mm Crimp suspender.

 

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Early Split wrap brooch. These were issued pre-WW2 and usually for Navy as shown on this Navy Cross replacement ribbon.

The other point to remember is that once ordered and manufactured some medals may be kept in stock ready for issue at a later date. Take for example the amount of WW2 Bronze Star’s 1944 issue and Vietnam Service medals available in their original boxes from 1969. Also the Pennsylvania National Guard 28th Division medals doing the rounds still in their original boxes. All of these probably found as old stock and some being sold as rare? Other medals were also numbered when issued, an example being the Distinguished Service Cross which were numbered from World War 1 until 1942. These can be possibly traced and were also sometimes officially named to the recipient. Numbered medals are well sort after and command a higher price due to their individuality as do medals with the older style wrap around brooch but most are early issue up to WW2. Some of the earlier service medals for campaigns before WW1 and between the wars were numbered when issued, examples being the Nicaraguan Campaigns or Haitian Campaign however there is a question mark as to the Navy Cross being numbered? There are examples on the market but also doubts about their validity? Due to the sheer numbers of medals being awarded during WW2 and America’s entry into the war following the aftermath of Pearl Harbor, medal numbering ceased as it proved too hard to administer as further awards were required due to the changing conditions of this conflict with the exception maybe of some of the earlier issued Good Conduct Medals. Medals were possibly originally numbered to prove that the manufacturer had produced the amount of medals ordered and were issued in a box bearing the same number as stamped on the medal rim. Based on my experiences of collecting, post World War 2 medals were not numbered with only certain types named and any earlier numbered medal issued would have been recorded on the recipient’s medal documents.

Approval for any decoration (Distinguished Service Cross, Silver Star etc) was via one of two ways. An After Action report would be submitted by a Commanding Officer with a description of any combat and any individual bravery. Any witnesses would be able to nominate those involved. A Commanding Officer or Battalion Commander can also nominate a recipient for an award. Witness statements would also be taken. Any approval or not would then go to a higher chain of command. A Divisional Commanding General or his equivalent in the Navy or Air Force would then approve the decoration except for the Distinguished Service Cross, Navy or Air Force Cross which is approved at an even higher level unless it is the Congressional Medal of Honor which has to be approved by the President of the United States. Numbered medals were issued both on the Loop and Wrap brooch. Types of medals numbered were the Silver Star, Purple Heart, Distinguished Service Cross, Marine Corp Expeditionary, Marine Corp Good Conduct and the Army Good Conduct along with some pre WW1 and Inter War issued medals. The Marine Corp Good Conduct Medals that were issued post WW1 were supposed to have been issued to those Marines who enlisted for the duration of the war. The medals were impressed with prefixed numbers from 20,000 to 70,000. Some examples were issued in white cardboard boxes with the medal number printed on the box lid and were engraved rather than impressed.

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Numbered United States Marine Corp Good Conduct Medal No 56866 issued circa 1918.

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Numbered Silver Star No 97502 made by the Robbins Co, Attleboro, Mass, circa 1942.