Military Medals & Their Meanings

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The United States military awards many different kinds of medals to soldiers for outstanding service. If you're a collector, you can purchase some types of medals through private collectors or army surplus stores. Other medals, -- such as the prestigious Congressional Medal of Honor -- are illegal to purchase.

1 Congressional Medal of Honor

The most prestigious U.S. military medal is the Congressional Medal of Honor; it has been issued over 3,000 times -- as of 2010 -- since its introduction in 1861. The medal is presented to a soldier who risks his life "above and beyond the call of duty" while defending the country during combat. It is presented by the president.

2 Silver Star and Bronze Star

Military personnel can earn several kinds of "star medals" for acts of bravery. The more prestigious Silver Star is awarded for courageous behavior in wartime. The Bronze Star is awarded for bravery or noteworthy service.

3 Purple Heart

The Purple Heart was originally instituted in 1782 as a medal of honor. It is now given to soldiers who receive significant injuries or die in the line of duty while serving their country.

4 Distinguished Service Medal

The Distinguished Service Medal is awarded to soldiers who perform an exceptionally meritorious service while working on a highly important task. The requirements are tough, so most of the recipients are general officers. The medal is occasionally given to those outside the military if presidential approval is granted.

Laura Edgar has been writing professionally since 2003 and editing since 2009. She now works as the banking content and media manager for NerdWallet, a financial literacy and consumer advocacy website. Edgar received her Master of Arts in English and her post-secondary teaching certificate in composition from San Francisco State University.