Recognizing Service: How to Determine Entitlement to Medals

Today’s post comes from Thomas Richardson, an archives technician at the National Personnel Records Center in St. Louis, Missouri. It is part of a series on records at the National Personnel Records Center.

Awards and decorations of the United States Armed Forces can be beautifully complex and informative. New awards are established, and existing ones are amended. The Department of Defense (DOD) manages the awards procedure and the recognition of foreign awards. This information changes over time, and inevitably, veterans who want copies of their medals can sometimes face a daunting process. Fortunately, the National Archives and Records Administration performs a vital service in this very process. 

Requests for replacement medals and awards are routine for the National Personnel Records Center (NPRC); they’re wanted for shadow-boxes, memorial services, or to replace lost and stolen medals. When award eligibility is retroactively applied to a time period or conflict, many veterans apply for said award. Note that the service branch issues the awards; not the NPRC.

PFC Edwin Witt with Purple Heart Medal, 7/3/1944. (National Archives Identifier 138926472)

When a request comes in, NPRC technicians review the veteran’s personnel record for awards information, which is then submitted to the appropriate branch. The first document they look at is the Notice of Separation (DD Form 214). This critical document summarizes the veteran’s service by recording their Military Occupational Specialty (MOS), rank, character of service, type of discharge, and a list of awards.

However, the research doesn’t end there. Typos and missing information are common on DD-214s (especially pre–Vietnam War era), and as unit chronological information is updated by the DOD, many veterans can receive more awards or appurtenances than they realize. Other documents that include awards information in a service record are copies of general orders and citations. 

Technicians use reference materials to assist in finding the correct medals and appurtenances (e.g., Bronze Stars, V devices, oak leaf clusters, etc.). These include rubrics, ledgers, and unit chronologies from the Department of Defense. Apart from personal awards like a Purple Heart and Silver Star, veterans automatically receive some awards based on time and location. These are typically campaign, service, and foreign awards. 

First American to receive the Distinguished Service Cross. Col.Percy L. Jones, Chief of Service, pinning the Distinguished Service Cross on the breast of Pvt. Leo. F. McGuire, S.S.U. 647. McGuire is a member of the Army Ambulance Service with the French Army, 1918. (National Archives Identifier 26433223)

What are the basic tenets for determining medals?

Time: Awards are authorized for a specific time frame to recognize a past or ongoing conflict. If a veteran served honorably in that period, they receive that award. Two examples include the National Defense Service Medal and the World War II Victory Medal. Established in 1953 by President Dwight D. Eisenhower, the NDSM recognizes all those who served in the Armed Forces during any armed conflict since 1953. It is one of the most widely awarded medals. The WWII Victory Medal is awarded to all service members who served honorably from December 7, 1941, to December 31, 1946. All veterans receive this award for just one day of active duty in that date range.  

Location: Where a veteran served while on active duty is a crucial factor. Most military regulations state that 30 consecutive days of service in a specific location is required to receive that award. One example is the Vietnam Service Medal. If a veteran participated in operations inside a foreign country, in the air space, or territorial waters, they received the VSM. Foreign service can be found in a veteran’s personnel file and is normally annotated to reflect any overseas service. 

Foreign Awards: Whenever the U.S. Armed Forces participate in an armed conflict overseas, allied foreign governments can establish awards for both their territorial forces and the foreign expeditionary forces. The Chiefs-of-Staff or Commandants for each branch reserve the right to authorize any foreign awards to their units. This means that not everyone may receive the same foreign awards for a conflict. The Republic of Vietnam (RVN) illustrates this point. The U.S. Army allows all Army veterans who served in Vietnam to receive both the RVN Campaign Medal and the RVN Gallantry Cross. This applies whether or not the medals are listed in their service record. The Air Force, Navy, and Marines do not have the same blanket policy. A service member or unit must have a general order authorizing them to wear the medals. 

These are some foreign awards that the DOD recognizes:

  • Croix de Guerre (France)
  • Philippine Defense Medal (Philippines) 
  • Philippine Liberation Medal (Philippines)
  • Philippine Presidential Unit Citation (Philippines)
  • United Nations Service Medal (UN)
  • Republic of Korea War Service Medal (South Korea)
  • Republic of Korea Presidential Unit Citation (South Korea)
  • Multinational Forces and Observers Medal (Egypt and Israel)
  • NATO Medal (NATO)
  • Kuwait Liberation Medal (Kuwait and Saudi Arabia)
Marine Maj. Arthur R. Conant awarded Bronze Star Medal. (National Archives Identifier 176250522)

Appurtenances are common with campaign and service medals. Each service branch constructs a chronological order of campaigns with start and end dates. These help determine phases of a conflict and how many service star appurtenances are attached to a veteran’s campaign medal. If they were on active duty for two campaigns, then they receive two service stars. 

Determining eligibility for retroactive awards is another common request for the NPRC. When criteria for a newly created award is written, a retroactive element can be incorporated to recognize acts or service carried out by previous veterans. Two great examples are the Combat Action Ribbon and the Korea Defense Service Medal. The CAR was established in 1969, but current Navy rules allow WWII and Korean War veterans to apply for the award if they meet specific criteria. The KDSM was created in 2002 to recognize everyone who served a tour of duty in Korea since July 27, 1954. The KDSM is one of the most retroactively awarded medals as a result. 

Personally, helping veterans receive their medals and recognizing their accomplishments is a professionally rewarding process. The NPRC strives everyday to help veterans and providing information about their medals and awards is one part of the ongoing mission. 

Please see the following for more information links: 

Please note that if the NPRC cannot determine entitlement to specific awards, the request is then referred to the service branch.

We also encourage you to bring other questions to History Hub’s Military Records Community

38 thoughts on “Recognizing Service: How to Determine Entitlement to Medals

  1. Can we ask for a copy of military awards that were given to a relative that ism long passed away? I have a 3x g-grandfather who served two tours in the civil war from Minnesota. Is there any chance of my obtaining any copies of any medals he may have received for his military service? Below is his information.
    Peter Laughlin
    Enlistment Date 1861
    Enlistment Location Fillmore
    Regiment 2nd Minnesota Volunteer Infantry Regiment

    1. There weren’t any government military awards in use during the Civil War, with the exception of the Medal of Honor. Following the war, veterans groups and the Grand Army of the Republic organization had their own medals that were given retroactively to its members. These aren’t the same as campaign or service medals we think of today. In 1905, Congress created the Civil War Campaign Medal that is awarded to anyone who served in during the war, but it’s now considered obsolete and not issued anymore. You might check to see if you ancestor belonged to any veteran groups who might have handed out awards.

  2. Did request and did receive the 2 Certificates of military Service (and some ribbons) for my deceased father. Do not recall getting a letter explaining any additional authorized decorations. On his WD 53 (OCT 14, 1946 to FEB 26, 1948) only had World War II Victory Medal and Army of Occupation Medal_Japan. Honorably Discharged as PFC. Then his DD 214 (OCT 18, 1950 to MAR 31, 1952) had UN Service Modal, Korean Svc Medal, Purple Heart (lost leg: Manju?, Korea 4 FEB 1951), CIB, and Good Conduct Medal; significant assignment: Co I 5th Inf Regt 24th Div. Retired (? lost leg), rank: Corporal.
    Hoping you can please help me find all decorations he deserves? OR direct me to someone who can?
    Thanks!
    C. Johnson

    1. Based on what he’s already received, your father is also entitled to receive the Honorable Discharge Button (Ruptured Duck) and is eligible to receive the Republic of Korea War Service Medal. Since the NPRC is not completing medals cases during Phase 0, you can just contact a private or commercial vendor for the button. With the KWSM, you need to complete the request form on the Army HRC website (https://www.hrc.army.mil/content/Korean%20War%20Service%20Medal). He is also entitled to receive the Republic of Korea Presidential Unit Citation which can also be purchased from a commercial vendor.

  3. Hello,
    I requested my grandfather’s records twice (2010, 2019). We learned in 2010 that he was entitled to receive medals and was never sent them, so he was quickly sent an envelope containing them. Marvelous.
    However, there were two questions that emerged. 1) He received a medal that we can’t explain and 2) one of the medals should have had a device attached.
    I attempted to get these questions answered when I applied for his military records the second time but I have not made any progress.

    Can you put me in touch with someone who can answer this question, preferably without having to pay for a third package of records?
    Thanks,
    Eric

    1. You can request a complete list of medals without asking for a replacement set under the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA): https://www.archives.gov/personnel-records-center/foia-info

      You should be able to get a letter listing all the entitled medals and awards a veteran received. If there’s a discrepancy with devices or type of awards, they can also check with the service branch to verify medals entitlement if they already have a copy of the record.

      Awards information is not a priority now due to COVID-19, but your best bet without having to pay for more copies would be to submit a FOIA request for entitled awards.

      You can also put in a request to History Hub: https://historyhub.history.gov/community/military-records

      Good luck!

  4. I would like information about getting the kdsm added to my military records.
    I tried to call but the line is not being answered at this time.

    1. Mr. Lefebvre,

      The NPRC no longer amends service records to reflect updated awards. Please contact the appropriate service branch and submit a DD Form 149 requesting an update to your service record to include the Korea Defense Service Medal.

      For more information, you can visit the History Hub website to see what others veterans and NARA SMEs are discussing about the KDSM: https://historyhub.history.gov/military-records/military-and-civilian-personnel-records/f/personnel-records-forum/18053/how-to-update-my-dd-214-to-include-korean-defense-service-medal

  5. My 3rd great grandfather served as a Private in the Continental Army, in the 3rd Maryland Regiment and was wounded at the Battle of Brandywine. He served under Gen William Smallwood in the in the 1st Brigade, Lt Colonel Nathaniel Ramsey, and 1st Lt. John Smith,

    Would Pvt Joseph Fields be entitled to the Badge of Merit, established by (then) General George Washington on August 7, 1782?

    I have proof of his service record from the National Archive and his pension application from

    1. There are currently no procedures to determine entitlement to the ‘Badge of Military Merit.’ The award was created by George Washington in 1782 and only authorized to three recipients: Sergeant William Brown, 5th Connecticut Regiment, Sergeant Elijah Church, 2nd Regiment Light Dragoons, Sergeant Daniel Bissell, 2nd Connecticut Regiment. The Badge of Military Merit was declared inactive, but not officially abolished until 1932 when the War Department authorized its replacement, the Purple Heart Medal. Only soldiers who previously received a Wound Chevron or Army Wound Ribbon between 1918 to 1932 can receive a replacement Purple Heart Medal.

      The Badge of Military Merit is not reproduced by the Department of the Army or Department of Defense.

  6. My husband a Army Vietnam veteran was awarded medals for his service in the Army which included the Bronze Star and other medals and was discharged as a Sargent. I want to know who is entitled to these original medals and not how to order replacement medals. Thank you for this information.

  7. In 1947 Chief of Staff George Marshall authorized the Bronze Star to all receipiants of the Combat Infantry and Combat Medic Badge. My dad was awarded the CIB during WW2. I was wondering what I needed to do see he gets this award. He died in 1989. His military records were destroyed in the fire at Jefferson Barracks in the 1970’s. His name is William Eugene Berry Tec 5 158th Regimental Combat Team 6th US Army.

  8. How do we get the KDSM medal? Do I qualify for the medal. I was stationed in Korea in 1984-1985 and 1988-1989. I had a break in service. I did 2 years in Korea. I heard we can get the medal and how do I get my DD214 updated?

  9. I requested copies of my father’s medals earned in WWII [Asiatic Pacific Campaign w/ 1 bronze star, Good Conduct, Philipine Liberation, Army of Occupation w/ Japan clasp, WWII Victory, Honorable Service Lapel Button] but COVID shutdowns had request in limbo.
    Turning to my local US Representative Garcia CA27, the request was fulfilled BUT it was sent to the congressman’s office and was lost or stolen. What options do I have because Army records show request was filled so I am unable to file another? Congressman’s office has not responded with explanation or further help.

  10. My father was inducted in the army in on Oct 31 1950 to Nov 20 1952
    with 1st Inf Div 18th Inf Rgt in Germany for the Occupation I would like to know if he time in the army if he was Eiigble for the good conduct Medal
    Executive Order 10444 dated 10 april 1953.

    ‘There is hereby established the Good Conduct Medal, which shall include suitable appurtenances. Such medal may be awarded for exemplary behavior, efficiency, and fidelity, under such regulations as the Secretary of the Army and the Secretary of the Air Force shall severally prescribe, to those enlisted men of the Army of the United States and the United States Air Force who on or after August 27, 1940, had or shall have honorably completed three years of active Federal military service, or who after December 7, 1941, have or shall have honorably served one year of active Federal military service while the United States is at war, or who at the time of the termination of their active Federal military service have not previously been awarded a Good Conduct Medal and have completed a period of honorable service of less than three years if any part of that period of service has been performed after June 27, 1950: Provided, that no persons, except persons separated from the active Federal military service by reason of physical disability incurred in line of duty, shall be awarded such medal for a period of service of less than one year.’’ I would like to know.
    Thank you
    David Rivera.

    1. If the service member also had no infractions, nonjudicial punishments, or court martials during the aforementioned service period, they are eligible for one. The service branch would have to make that determination after reviewing the service record.

      1. Thank you Ms Kratz for the information.
        Do I put in paperwork with the National Archives National Personnel Record Center.
        Thanks again
        David Rivera
        U.S Army Retired , Combat Veteran.

  11. Hi. I submitted a KDSM Self Certification Document with copies of the original orders and other supporting documents through the USPS. It was received by an individual at the NPRC on 7 Feb 2023. I’m not sure if I have allowed sufficient time for the request to be processed and I apologize. Do you have the means to update me on the status of this request? Is it okay to use this format as a followup to my request, or should I be communicating by phone or email?
    Thank you for your time!

  12. I served aboard the USS Newport News CA148 In 1967-1968. During this time we participated in the Viet Nam Crises. Upon our return the ship was awarded the Navy Commendation Medal. Does that mean I qualify for that medal also? Just curious. Thank You,

  13. I served at Headquarters USARV/USARPAC Ft Shafter 1968-1969. Do I qualify for a Vietnam service ribbon?

  14. In June of 1970 I served a 7 day TDY in Vietnam, from my home base (CCK) on Taiwan. I now have prostate cancer which the VA considers a presumptive injury due to agent orange exposure. Is this cancer considered an injury in a war zone, and if so, does that entitle me to the Vietnam service ribbon even though I was only in country for 7 days? And if I am entitled to the service ribbon, should I also apply for a revised DD214 requesting that it reflect the injury and if eligible, the service ribbon?

    1. If the person serves in Vietnam as a permanent duty station, they receive the medal for 1 day in country. Those who are attached to combat or support operations in Vietnam are also entitled to the award. If the person serves on temporary duty however, they must have 30 days consecutive or 60 non-consecutive days in country to be eligible for the award. If you are requesting updates to your DD-214, you will need to submit a DD149 to the service branch. The NPRC no longer issues DD-214 for corrections.

  15. My dads WWII Victory Medal was lost in a move. I would like to create a shadow box of his service. He was in the navy. How do I request a replacement medal and ribbon?

    1. The National Personnel Records Center does not issue service medals; that is a function of each military service department. Requests for the issuance or replacement of military service medals, decorations, and awards should be directed to the specific branch of the military in which the veteran served. There are some exceptions, however, so visit this website for more information: https://www.archives.gov/veterans/replace-medals

  16. My Grandfather Joseph William Ellis (deceased) was a half-track driver and Infantryman in the 36th Armored Infantry Regiment (AIR) with the 3rd Armored Division in WWII and was in most of the campaigns in Europe including “The Battle of the Bulge” that the 3rd AD participated in. I never saw his medals and I found out that he most likely should’ve been awarded a Bronze Star for service. How can I get that information? He was never presented a Bronze Star when he was alive and it would be great to be able to get that added to his official records and present the family (my Mom, his oldest daughter or someone else).

  17. How would I go about confirming if I qualified to receive additional ribbons or medals not listed on my DD-214?

  18. I received a BCD in 1998. Prior to that DD-214’s were issued when a person reenlisted (broken service). Block 12 of the DD-214 has specific places for “Record of Service”. When I reenlisted on April 1, 1991, I was issued a DD-214. That period of service actually ended on July 5, 1992 that is recognized by the Veterans Administration. I received (3) Good Conduct Awards prior to separation, two during the period I was “Qualified in Submarines”. How would I obtain that DD-214 or an official document stating that I was qualified. I am still a Veteran with eligibility in certain areas and arenas. I am trying to obtain a license plate that recognizes my Submarine Service (SS) to our country.

  19. I received orders to report to the Republic of Vietnam in April 1969. In June 1969 I reported to Camp Pendleton Marine Base for staging and was sent to Da Nang for about 2 weeks. I was assigned to the unit 3FSR (force service regiment), After arriving I was informed the unit had transferred operations to Okinawa, Japan. II was also transferred to Okinawa and stayed with the unit 3rd FSR until June of 1970 when I was returned to the States, ie; Camp Lejeune, NC for the remainder of my tour of duty, on August 18, 1972. I submitted information attempting to question why then my DD-214 did not have any of this information and was informed by the Commandant of the Marine Corps I was entitled to the President Unit Citation. Ok, that was fine but, am I also entitled to the Vietnam Service medal.? The Marine Corps advised me 6 years ago they would send me an updated DD-214 and I have yet to receive it. I requested the document at least twice. Please advise.

  20. I served in the Us Army in Europe 1964 to 1967, never received any of my awards ,medals only my DD214 how do I get those for My Children?

  21. i have received info from the NPRC on my great Uncle but it didn’t include any info on his personal awards and medals, It said something about the fire in 1973 and his information was in that part of the warehouse. H served on a B24 D called Toughy 42-40525. Flew with the 43rd Bg 64th Bs.. Plane crashed in Nadzab, Papa New Guinea on May 7th 1944. Had 13 missions flown. I would love to know what his medals were, because as far as I know the family has never received them. I guessing he would receive the Purple Heart for dying in a combat zone , along with the WW2 Victory Medal, Asiatic Pacific, American Campaign, Good Conduct, and maybe the Air Medal.. Any help would be great.
    thanks Greg Black

    1. I emailed the US Army Ft. Knox Human Resource Command (HRC) a letter and attached my deceased relative’s WG450 Honorable Discharge (similar to the DD214) that we had that was also void of the awards you are looking for. They corrected the records, and I did get his WWII Victory Medal and American Campaign Medal along with the Ruptured Duck Honorable Service Label Button for which he rated.

      The Army good conduct medal is a different issue because there was no record from that CO to show he was recommended for it at they told me per Army Regulations (AR). He was released before 3 years of service after the war was over before actually having 3 years of eligible service for the good conduct medal anyway.

      EO 10444 of 1953 changed the good conduct medal award criteria years after my uncle separated from service, so I would think he rated it without documentation that the CO then found him qualified for the good conduct medal anyway. He did after all get honorable discharge.

      Unfortunately, his OMPF and medical records were destroyed in the 1973 fire also, so there is nothing to show he was qualified and eligible (and nothing to show he wasn’t either) for the AGCM.

      Any other issue you may with HRC have is being the right next of kin to be able to request it all of it for him. Hope this helps some.

  22. My father was in U.s. Navy (Vietnam era)
    2 years active and 4 reserve. He never received his Good Conduct medal/ribbon.
    He was apparently informed his Reserve time did not qualify towards Good Conduct award.(He is a bit bitter about this)
    His DD-214 was under Honorable conitions. Has all VA benefits.
    How can this be rectified?
    Any advice is welcome.
    Thank you!
    C. Johnson

  23. Hi, I requested my father’s Navy records, which show that he served from 1943 to 1976, and I wanted to know what he was doing in the Navy and what medals he earned. I know that he served in WW2 and the Korean War. I did get some of his medals, but not all of them. I only got a WW2 Victory Medal, a Korean Service Medal, a National Defense Service Medal, a United Nations Service Medal for Korea, a Naval Reserve Medal, and a Combat Action Ribbon with one star. When I looked at my father’s Navy file, one of the transcript pages says that he earned the Good Conduct Medal, American Defense Service Medal, American Campaign Medal, European African Middle Eastern Campaign Medal, Asiatic Pacific Campaign Medal, WW2 Victory Medal, Navy Occupation Service Medal, China Service Medal, Korean Service Medal, a National Defense Service Medal, a United Nations Service Medal, and Phillippine Medal so I don’t know what I am doing wrong I already requested medals. Still, the national archives said that all they could find about my father’s files and medals was to recover the medals he had worked so hard for. Sadly, he passed away in 2011.

  24. I requested information about my relative who served in the Coast Guard during WW2 from 1942 to 1945, and I wanted to know what he was in the Coast Guard and what medals he earned. I found what I was looking for about service in WW2, and the National Archives said that I am entitled to his WW2 Victory. Medal, Asiatic Pacific Campaign Medal, American Campaign Medal, and two other labels, but the problem is that I requested it as an other relative but not the next of kin. I thought entitlement medals go for only veterans, and they’re next of kin, not to other relatives or the general public, so what did I do wrong, and if I did, what should I do? I only wanted to know what he was doing during WW2 in the Coast Guard and what medals he earned, not to have his entitlements for medals, and I did not mean to cause any problems to the national archives.

  25. I just received my 1st cousin 2x removed’s Navy service in WW2 via his DD Form 214 and it lists American, Asiatic Pacific, Victory, and Good Conduct medals, but I think he should have earned the Navy Occupation Service Medal. He served 20 May 1944 to 23 Aug 1947. It lists him as having served on the USS Merrick, which was awarded the Navy Occupation Service Medal with “ASIA” clasp. Does he not qualify? If so, why? If yes, how can I get him recognized for that service?

  26. Hello, I am still in contact with several fellow Marines that were reservists at the onset of Desert Storm. We were activated on 12 December and served on active duty through the conflict until sometime in May, well after the engagement itself ended, and were then returned to Reserve duty.

    None of us has the Armed Forces Reserve Medal listed on our DD214s but we seem to rate it, as best we can tell.
    How can we go about getting a determination of eligibility.

    On August 8, 1996, President Bill Clinton approved an amendment to the Executive Order that established the Armed Forces Reserve Medal which authorizes award of the medal to members of the Reserve Components who, on or after August 1, 1990, perform qualifying active service in support of a designated contingency operation. The Mobilaztion “M” device will be worn on the medal to denote service during a mobilization or contingency designated by the Secretary of Defense. The “M” device was approved in 1993 by the Secretary of Defense to recognize the “special sacrifice in service to the nation” of Reserve component personnel who volunteered or were called to active duty in support of a mobilization or a continguency operation.

    A bronze letter “M” is worn on the ribbon to denote mobilization during a period of war or other national emergency. When a member qualifies for the “M” device, the bronze “M” shall be awarded, positioned on the ribbon and medal, and a number (indicating the number of times it is awarded) shall be included on the ribbon and medal. Note: multiple periods of service during one designated contingency shall count as one “M” device. The following events have qualified for award of the “M” device:

    Operation Desert Shield/Storm (The Persian Gulf War

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