The third-highest military decoration given for valor, the Silver Star Medal is awarded to any uniformed member of the Armed Forces who exhibits "gallantry in action against an enemy of the United States." It is also the highest U.S. military decoration for valor that can be awarded to members of the armed forces of friendly foreign nations, but regulations specify that it can be awarded only for valorous acts performed during actual combat it itself in direct support of U.S. military operations.
The medal was established in 1932 to replace the Citation Star, which was first awarded in 1918.
It's estimated that between 100,000 and 150,000 service members have received the Silver Star. It can be given multiple times to a single recipient—Colonel David Hackworth received ten for his service in the Korean and Vietnam conflicts—but subsequent awards are represented by oak-leaf clusters for the Army and Air Force and 5/10th-inch stars for the Navy, Marine Corps, and Coast Guard.
The medal can be retroactively awarded; it has been posthumously given to members of the 1868 Spanish-American War. No women received the Silver Star between the end of World War II until 2005, when Sgt. Leigh Ann Hester received it for valor following an Iraqi insurgent ambush.
Other notable recipients include Omar Bradley, Wesley Clark, James H. Doolittle, actors Charles Durning and Douglas Fairbanks Jr., Alexander Haig, footballer and sportscaster Tom Harmon, actor Sterling Hayden, author Tony Hillerman, Lyndon B. Johnson, Douglas MacArthur (seven), George Marshall, John McCain, actor Audie Murphy (2), Oliver North, George S. Patton, Francis Gary Powers, Norm Schwarzkopf, Pat Tillman, and Chuck Yeager (2).
In response to the increasing occurrence of "Stolen Valor" incidents (people falsely claiming to have served in the military and/or have earned commendations or medals), the Department of Defense established a "Military Awards For Valor" Web site in 2012. In addition to listing recipients of the Medal of Honor and Service Crosses (Navy Cross, Air Force Cross, and Distinguished Service Cross), the site also lists all those awarded the Silver Star since September 11, 2001. The names of new Silver Star recipients are posted on the Web site on the first duty day of the month immediately following the presentation of the award.
The Silver Star Medal is a 1 1/2-inch, five-pointed gold star suspended by a red, white, and blue ribbon. Laurel leaves encircle the center, in which rays extend from a 3/16th depiction of the original Citation Star.
The reverse is inscribed with "For Gallentry in Action."