The Institute of Heraldry cites April 5, 1946 as the establishment date for the Army of Occupation Medal, citing War Department Circular 102. Army Regulation 600–8–22, however, lists the establishment date as October 32, 1946, and the authorizing document as War Department General Orders 32. In any event, the medal was ready for presentation until April 2, 1947, when it was presented to General Dwight Eisenhower.

Because the medal was created to recognize the contributions of Soldiers serving occupation duty in Germany, Austria, Italy, and other areas associated with Axis and/or Nazi control during World War II, it quickly became obvious that the Army was not the only branch of the U.S. military carrying out such missions. In February, 1948, Secretary of the Navy John L. Sullivan requested that the Army’s Heraldic Section (now The Institute of Heraldry) create a Navy Occupation Service Medal with its own unique design; Thomas Hudson Jones, who designed the original medal, fulfilled this request by the end of March. Members of the United States Marine Corps who qualify for the medal wear the Navy version, while United States Air Force personnel wear the Army version.

The design of the Army/Air Force version reflects the “Europe First” or “German First” strategy employed by the United States and United Kingdom in World War II. On the obverse of the medal is a depiction of the Remagen Bridge, which was captured intact by the Allies in March, 1945 to cross the Rhine and enter Germany; the reverse displays Mt. Fuji in Japan. The more-stylized Navy version features the Roman god Neptune astride a creature that appears to be a chimera of a horse and sea serpent, with the reverse featuring an eagle perched on a horizontal anchor wrapped in laurel.

The eligibility dates and service periods for the various versions of the Army of Occupation medal are delineated in each military branch’s regulations. One interesting note: because West Berlin was legally considered an occupied territory up until the time that Germany was re-unified, Servicemembers stationed there were eligible for the award up until 1990—forty-five years after Germany had surrendered to the Allies.

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