Sorting out Silver and Bronze Stars

Q — What’s the difference between a Silver Star and a Bronze Star?

A — Our museum celebrates several Silver and Bronze Star recipients, including Army Sgt. James Orlando “Lon” Fornelli during World War II (right) and Army Pfc. John Puccini during the Korean War (left). Both medals are awarded for actions in connection with combat, but it’s a matter of proximity and degree.

Silver Star

Our nation’s third highest Decoration, the Silver Star Medal is given for gallantry in action. It ranks only behind the Medal of Honor (our highest Decoration) and the Distinguished Service Cross (Army) along with its equivalents, the Navy Cross (Navy and Marine Corps), Air Force Cross and the recently approved Coast Guard Cross. The Silver Star is a true combat Decoration. The recipient’s name is often engraved on the back of the medal. Fornelli earned his Silver Star by going out alone into the jungle and felling 13 enemy snipers who had his platoon hemmed in on Guadalcanal.

The Bronze Star Medal (BSM) is awarded for either heroic or meritorious achievement. The Army and Air Force award acts of heroism in combat with a “V” device denoting valor, which are worn on the accompanying ribbon. The Navy, Marine Corps and Coast Guard equivalent is the “Combat V” device. BSMs may also contain the name of the recipient engraved on the back of the medal.

In lieu of a higher decoration, BSMs may be awarded for an act of Valor in combat for a specific action on a specific date. Puccini earned his Bronze Star with “V” for valor while fighting off an assault on a crucial hill in Korea, then exposing himself to enemy fire while saving wounded comrades. For more, click here.

Bronze Star

Bronze Stars are also given for Meritorious Achievement while serving in a combat zone during a specified period of time. For example, the Army retroactively awarded BSMs for Meritorious Achievement to all World War II soldiers who qualified for the Combat Infantryman Badge or the Combat Medic Badge. The Army felt if you served in close combat with the enemy and performed competently enough to rate one of the combat badges, you also rated the BSM.

It should be noted that individual unit commanders have great discretion in determining who gets what Decorations. Puccini’s act of heroism could easily have been viewed as worthy of a Silver Star by a different commanding officer.

Also, the United States Military was officially segregated until July 1948 and the attitudes of the day often prevailed. In that context, racism, antisemitism and outright “politics” often played a role in determining the receipt of Decorations, regardless of action performed by the individual. In 2014, 24 Medals of Honor were presented to Black, Hispanic and Jewish Veterans, who were denied our nation’s highest Decoration because of racism. The awards were for actions in World War II, Korea and Vietnam. Only three of the Veterans were alive to be on hand for the presentation.

A classic case of “politics” is Lt. Dick Winters, made famous by the HBO Series “Band of Brothers.” He successfully led an incredibly heroic assault on a German Artillery position and was recommend by his commanding officer for The Medal of Honor. That recommendation was denied. At that time, the Medal of Honor was being awarded on a quota system and Winters’ unit, the 101st Airborne Division, had already met their quota.



Did you like this? Share it!

Steve Corbo

A founding member and corporate secretary of the Italian American Veterans Museum, Steve Corbo is the museum’s curator and a military consultant for Fra Noi. He has served for 25 years as president of S.A. Corbo & Associates Inc., providing professional liability insurance to health care providers. The son and nephew of World War II veterans and a passionate military historian for over 50 years, he has written and published articles on a variety of topics, including military history, and serves as the military consultant for Fra Noi, the Chicago-area Italian-American magazine.

0 comments on “Sorting out Silver and Bronze Stars

Comments are closed.

If you haven’t already done so,
please join our email list.