They May Soon Be Like Shinny Brass Buttons

by James Glaser
March 13, 2006

I can remember growing up in the cold war and seeing photographs or clips on the news that pictured Russian generals, whose chests would be covered with medals and ribbons.

Russian medals To me, that always looked kind of cheap, like the Soviet Union gave out a medal or ribbon for just about anything. Growing up I would see Soldiers and Marines marching down the street in Veteran's Day Parades and many of the WW II and Korean Vets would have three or four medals or a row or two of ribbons. Each of them really meant something.

You could always spot the Purple Heart which showed that a veteran had shed some of his blood for our country and every kid on my block knew that a little "v" on the ribbon meant that the Award was given for valor.

Today, I would guess like the Soviet Union during the Cold War, medals and ribbons are given out for many things that have nothing to do with combat. Did you know you can now get a medal for "Humane Action or Humanitarian Service? How about the one for "Navy/Marine Corps Overseas Service"? Then there is the Sea Service Deployment Ribbon, Artic Service, Coast Guard Artic Service Medal, the President's Dist. Fed. Civilian Service Medal, and then there is the Navy and DOD's Dist Civilian Service Medal.

There are medals for the Selective Service, Recruiting, being in the Reserves, the United Nations Service Medal not to be confused with the United Nations Medal. How about the Multi-National Forces and Observer Medal or the Inter-American Defense Board Medal?

There are way more medals and ribbons for non-combat service than there are for combat, but they all look like the real thing. It makes the troops look good to have several rows of ribbons or medals and that helps with recruitment.

Sunday morning I was watching the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, Marine Corps General Peter Pace on a talk show. He had way more than a chest full of ribbons, so just for grins I looked up what they were for. The General has some medals that any Marine would be proud of, but a lot of the ones he has are pretty hokey. The man has a Bronze Star, the Legion of Merit, and the Combat Action Ribbon, but he also has something called Defense Superior Service Medal. Those are "Awarded by the Secretary of Defense for superior meritorious service while in a position of significant responsibility while assigned to a joint activity." Cool, but not really what you would call service requiring a medal. General Peter Pace

Now I'm not picking on General Pace. Almost every high ranking American military leader is now looking like one of those Cold War Soviet Generals. General Pace also has medals and ribbons for the Global War of Terrorism, (Didn't take long to invent that one) Navy Sea Deployment, Overseas Service Ribbon, Recruiting Service Ribbon, Order of the Sacred Treasures of Japan, and a United Nations Medal.

Now this is just my opinion, but row upon row of ribbons or medals seems to cheapen the ones that really mean something. Every American thinks of the words "hero or sacrifice" when they see a Soldier or Marine with a medal or ribbon on their uniform.

General Pace’s Medals November 2005 I had to look it up, that Order of the Sacred Treasures of Japan Medal General pace was awarded: "The Order of the Sacred Treasures (Zuihosho) is a Japanese Order (decoration), established on January 4, 1888 by Emperor Meiji of Japan. It is awarded in 8 classes (from 8th to 1st, in ascending order of importance). Generally awarded for long and/or meritorious service, and considered to be the lowest of the Japanese orders of merit (hosho). Originally a male-only decoration, the order has been made available to women since 1919; it is awarded for both civil and military merit, though of a lesser degree than that required for the conferrment of the Order of the Rising Sun. Unlike its European counterparts, the order may be conferred posthumously."

General Dwight D. Eisenhower General Leonard F. Chapman I have no idea of what class of this medal General Pace was awarded or why he got this Japanese medal. It might be just me, but I don't buy Americans in uniform wearing medals given to them by foreign governments or by the United Nations. To me it just doesn't seem right. Also all of these fluff medals and ribbons are something new. I joined the Marines back in the late 60s, and the Commandant of the Marine Corps was General Leonard F. Chapman Jr. He was a WW II, Korea, and Vietnam Vet and if you look at his uniform you will see only thirteen ribbons. For a comparison, General Pace sports what looks like a couple dozen. Think of the Supreme Allied Commander for all of Europe in WW II, Dwight D. Eisenhower. It looks like "Ike" has only about seven ribbons. Maybe it is the 'times' or the style of the Pentagon today. Maybe all of the medals and ribbons are needed today to entice young people into the service.You have to know when you are walking around in uniiform with a chest full of medals, every one who sees you is thinking you are so very special, brave, patriotic, a real American hero, but way down deep you have to know that you are just shinning them on when you wear medals for recruitment duty, because you sailed on a ship over seas, happened to be stationed in Saudi Arabia during the first Gulf War, or like right now, everyone gets the Global War on Terrorism Medal.

To be awarded the Global War on Terrorism Medal, the Pentagon says—"Service in an operationally deployed status abroad within a designated area of eligibility merits primary eligibility for the War on Terrorism Expeditionary Medal; personnel supporting the Global War on Terrorism in a non-deployed status, whether stationed at home or overseas, are eligible only for the War on Terrorism Service Medal." So if you never make it to Iraq or Afghanistan or even get out of the country you can wear a medal, probably several. Every time a new medal is awarded for a non-combat role in the military, the "real medals," like the Silver Star, the Purple Heart, the Navy Cross, or even the Congressional Medal of Honor become less special.

At the rate we are going, medals and ribbons will be issued with the uniform and they will become like a shinny brass button.

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