The Award Goes To...
By Ronda Addy
Throughout history heroes have been made during times of war. They do not seek rewards, but their outstanding displays of heroism deserve some sort of recognition. Most of us are familiar with medals presented by the United States, such as the Bronze Star and Medal of Honor. What we are not so familiar with are the medals presented by other countries to their heroes. Let's take a look at some of the medals.
The Victoria Cross is awarded to members of the British and Commonwealth Armed Forces (even civilians who are under military command). The medal, only awarded for bravery in the face of the enemy, was first given on January 29, 1856, to those who served during the Crimean War. Since 1856, there have been a total of 1,355 Victoria Crosses awarded. It wasn't until the 20th century, however, that the medal was first awarded posthumously. Since the end of WWII, the Victoria Cross has only been awarded 12 times. Only three people have been awarded it twice.
King Fredrich Wilhelm II of Prussia established the Iron Cross on March 10, 1813. Only awarded during times of war, the medal is presented in grades depending on the rank of the service member and has not been awarded since May 1945. In order to indicate when it is awarded, the Iron Cross is annotated by a year. For example, WWI is annotated with 1914. During WWI, approximately five million Iron Crosses of the second class were issued and 218,000 of the first class. In 1939, Adolf Hitler restored the Iron Cross, keeping with the tradition of awarding various grades. The Star of the Grand Cross of the Iron Cross was manufactured but never awarded to any recipient. After WWII, veterans could continue to wear the Iron Cross but any with the swastika on it were prohibited by law from being worn. In 1957, the government issued new Iron Crosses with an Oak Leaf Cluster replacing the swastika to those WWII veterans who received the Iron Cross. The Bundeswehr or West German military forces took up the Iron Cross again in 1955.
The highest military order in Germany is the Blue Max (Pour le Merite). First awarded in 1740, the Blue Max was given to both civilians and military personnel until 1810, when King Fredrich Wilhelm III of Prussia stated the award could only be given to serving military personnel. During WWI, the award became closely associated with aerial combat and the number of planes required to receive the medal was increased to 20 enemy aircraft. Ace Max Immelmann was the first airman to receive it. Among the most notable recipients of the Blue Max were the Red Baron, Manfred von Richthofen, Erwin Rommel and Hermann Goring. The youngest recipient was 23-year-old Ernst Junger, also the last living holder before he died in 1998.
First created in 1915, the Croix de guerre (War Cross) was a military decoration of France and Belgium. Awarded during WWI and WWII, it was also given to foreign military forces allied to France and Belgium. Recipients of the award distinguished themselves by acts of heroism involving combat with enemy forces and those who had been mentioned in dispatches. The award varied depending on the country bestowing it and the conflict involved, thus resulting in the French and Belgian awards.
Established on April 16, 1934, the Hero of the Soviet Union was the highest honor of the former USSR. It included the Order of Lenin, (the highest Soviet award) and the Gold Star medal along with a certificate of the heroic deed. An individual could be awarded the Hero award several times, but with few exceptions, the Lenin Order could be won only once. Only 12,500 people have been awarded the Hero of the Soviet Union, most of them during the Great Patriotic War. Just 154 people have received the award twice. Anyone who won the award twice was entitled to a bronze bust of their likeness, along with a commemorative inscription erected in their homeland. If someone won the award for a third time, they were entitled to a bronze bust of themselves erected on a columnar pedestal in Moscow near the Palace of the Soviets, which was never built. Only two men received the award four times; one was Leonid Breshnev. The Supreme Soviet of the USSR abolished the practice of giving the award more than once to any individual in 1988. During the war, the Hero of the Soviet Union was also awarded to 12 cities and a fortress for collective heroism. After the collapse of the Soviet Union, the title of the award was changed to Hero of the Russian Federation.
First instituted by Napoleon Bonaparte on May 19, 1802, the Legion d'honneur or Legion of Honor is considered one of the country's most prestigious awards and highest civilian honor. It is awarded to anyone (even non-French individuals) for their outstanding achievements in military or civilian life. Many sports figures and high-level civil servants have received the award in addition to military personnel. There are five classes of the Legion of Honor, with each class having a maximum quota for those eligible for the award. When an individual is awarded the award during times of war, they are automatically awarded the Croix de Guerre with palm. In 1998, all surviving WWI veterans who had fought on French soil were made Chevaliers of the Legion, if they weren't already one. It is an offense to wear the Legion of Honor without the right to do so.
These are just a few of the medals awarded to individuals around the world who have distinguished themselves either during times of war or peace. A hero is a rare breed of individual who makes an instant decision that turns out far better than anyone's expectations.