Most Decorated US Soldier

 

It’s an honor to serve in the military in the first place, but what about those who truly went above and beyond the call of duty?

In the military, becoming a decorated soldier is all about valor, heroism, gallantry, and leadership. So, who is the most decorated US soldier of them all?

Most Decorated Soldier in US History

To offer a breakdown of decorated soldiers throughout US history, let’s start by understanding the three most impressive honors a soldier can be decorated with and what these honors represent.

Medal of Honor

The Medal of Honor is the highest military decoration that can be awarded by the US Government. Presented in the name of Congress by the President, it is bestowed upon members of the US Armed Forces “who distinguish themselves through conspicuous gallantry and intrepidity at the risk of life above and beyond the call of duty.”

To receive the Medal of Honor, this distinguishing act could have been done while:

  • Engaged in action against an enemy of the United States
  • Engaged in military operations involving conflict with an opposing foreign force
  • Serving alongside friendly foreign forces engaged in an armed conflict against an opposing armed force in which the US is not a belligerent party

There are three distinct versions of the Medal of Honor. One for the Army, one for the Air Force, and a third for the Navy, Marine Corps, and Coast Guard.

Distinguished Service Cross

The Distinguished Service Cross is the second highest honor a military service member can achieve and may be awarded to members of the US Army.

It is bestowed to honor extraordinary heroism while:

  • Engaged in action against an enemy of the United States
  • Engaged in military operations involving conflict with an opposing foreign force
  • Serving alongside friendly foreign forces engaged in an armed conflict against an opposing armed force in which the US is not a belligerent party

Actions that deserve the Distinguished Service Cross must be of such a high caliber that they are above those required for all other US combat decorations but do not merit the Medal of Honor.

Navy Cross

The Navy Cross is equivalent to the Distinguished Service Cross except it may be awarded to a member of the US Navy, US Marine Corps, or the US Coast Guard as opposed to someone from the US Army.

It is bestowed to honor extraordinary heroism while:

  • Engaged in action against an enemy of the United States
  • Engaged in military operations involving conflict with an opposing foreign force
  • Serving alongside friendly foreign forces engaged in an armed conflict against an opposing armed force in which the US is not a belligerent party

Actions that deserve the Navy Cross must be of such a high caliber that they are above those required for all other US combat decorations but do not merit the Medal of Honor.

Air Force Cross

The Air Force Cross is equivalent to the Distinguished Service Cross and the Navy Cross except it may be awarded to a member of the US Air Force as opposed to someone from the US Army, US Navy, US Marine Corps, or US Coast Guard.

It is bestowed to honor extraordinary heroism while:

  • Engaged in action against an enemy of the United States
  • Engaged in military operations involving conflict with an opposing foreign force
  • Serving alongside friendly foreign forces engaged in an armed conflict against an opposing armed force in which the US is not a belligerent party

Actions that deserve the Air Force Cross must be of such a high caliber that they are above those required for all other US combat decorations but do not merit the Medal of Honor.

Silver Star

The Silver Star is the third-highest military combat honor a US soldier of the Armed Forces can receive.

It is bestowed to honor gallantry in action while:

  • Engaged in action against an enemy of the United States
  • Engaged in military operations involving conflict with an opposing foreign force
  • Serving alongside friendly foreign forces engaged in an armed conflict against an opposing armed force in which the US is not a belligerent party

Actions that deserve the Silver Star must be of such a high caliber that they are above those required for all other US combat decorations but do not merit the Medal of Honor or a Service Cross such as the Distinguished Service Cross, the Navy Cross, or the Air Force Cross.

Most Decorated Soldier Ever

It’s difficult to come to a consensus about who, in fact, is the most decorated soldier in all of US history. After all, some people have two Medals of Honor while others have five Navy Crosses. There’s not a clear way to rank them.

To briefly commemorate some of the most decorated soldiers ever, here are eleven notable and generously honored troops within US military history.

Daniel Daly

Daniel Daly served in the US Marine Corps and is one of a select few who have earned the Medal of Honor twice. Some say he might have even been honored with a third if the limit wasn’t set at two.

Daly is best remembered for his valor in World War II during the Battle of Belleau Woods. At the time of his retirement, on top of his two Medals of Honor, he was also awarded the Distinguished Service Cross, Navy Cross, a Silver Star, as well as foreign military awards such as the Médaille Militaire and the Croix de Guerre.

Smedley Butler

When Smedley Butler died in 1940, he was the most decorated Marine at the time, which is an impressive feat considering the extremely patriotic culture of the Corps. Some of his awards include two Medals of Honor, the Marine Corps Brevet Medal, and The Order of the Black Star.

Interestingly, after serving in combat across three continents, Butler retired to civilian life where he advocated for pacifism.

Edward A. Carter

Edward A. Carter dealt with extreme racism during his time in the Army during World War II. He was denied promotions in a segregated military yet his heroic actions still shined through. During his career, Carter was awarded the Distinguished Service Cross, a Purple Heart, and a Bronze Heart.

Still, due to “suspect” behavior, he was discharged from the Armed Forces without explanation. It wasn’t until after his death that he was awarded the Medal of Honor, in which his son accepted on his behalf, and his remains were moved from his original gravesite in California to the Arlington National Cemetery.

Robin Olds

Known as rebellious, Robin Olds came from a military family and served in the Air Force during World War II and Vietnam eras. He was a triple ace meaning he earned 15 confirmed kills throughout his career and is known for “Operation Bolo”, a plan he devised in 1967.

By the time of his retirement, Olds had been decorated 54 times including the Air Force Cross, two Air Force Distinguished Service Medals, four Silver Stars, six Distinguished Flying Crosses, a Legion of Merit, and the Croix de Guerre.

James F. Hollingsworth

James F. Hollingsworth was known as a “profane” and “brash” Texan who served in the Army from World War II to Vietnam.

It was his character in the battlefield that earned him three Distinguished Service Crosses, four Distinguished Service Medals, four Silver Stars, three Legion of Merit medals, three Distinguished Flying Crosses, six Purple Hearts, and four Bronze Stars.

Eddie Rickenbacker

Known as “Fast Eddie”, Eddie Rickenbacker was originally a race car driver who entered the Army and completed 26 registered aerial kills in only nine months flying over Europe during World War I.

When he first wanted to join the Army Air Force, he was 26 years old, which was already above the age limit, and he didn’t have the education necessary. Still, he earned his wings due to his undeniable skills.

For his efforts behind French enemy lines, Rickenbacker was awarded the Medal of Honor and by the time he retired, he had also earned seven Distinguished Service Crosses and the French Croix de Guerre.

Lewis “Chesty” Puller

Lewis Puller grew up in northern Virginia and had dreamed of becoming a career soldier from a young age. He was too young to serve in World War I but later served in Haiti and Nicaragua, the latter of which earned him five Navy Crosses (the most ever awarded).

He took part in some of the most intense battles of World War II and went on to become the most decorated Marine of all time, beating Smedley Butler’s record, even though he never snagged the Medal of Honor.

Audie Murphy

Known as World War II’s most decorated soldier, Audie Murphy was originally denied from military service due to his physical shortcomings – he was, at most, only 5’5” tall. Eventually, he joined the Army and proceeded to kill 250 enemy troops.

In January 1945, at just 19 years old, Murphy handled one of the greatest feats in American military history. Facing certain annihilation from enemy soldiers in a town outside of a German village, he, despite being wounded, climbed on top of a burning M-10 tank and commanded a .50 caliber machine gun and single-handedly held off the Germans for over an hour.

For these actions, he was awarded the Medal of Honor and at the end of his career had also earned the Distinguished Service Cross, two Silver Stars, the Legion of Merit, two Bronze Stars, three Purple Hearts, the French Fourragere, the French Legion of Honor, Croix de Guerre with Palm and Silver Star, and the Belgian Croix de Guerre.

Later, he wrote a best-selling memoir called To Hell and Back and became a Hollywood movie star.

David Hackworth

David Hackworth began his military career at the end of World War II and went on to become the youngest captain of the Korean War and youngest colonel in the Vietnam War. For his work, he would go on to earn 91 medals honoring his service.

These honors include two Distinguished Service Crosses, ten Silver Stars, eight Bronze Stars, and eight Purple Hearts. Later in his career, he would become more rebellious and independent claiming that the Vietnam War could not be won.

After the military, he turned to writing and became an advocate for military reform.

Robert L. Howard

Considered the most decorated US soldier of the modern era, Robert L. Howard spent 36 years in the military completing mostly top-secret missions behind enemy lines – which is why the specifics of his heroism are vastly unknown.

His duty took him on five tours and he earned eight Purple Hearts, a Distinguished Service Cross, a Silver Star, and finally, the Medal of Honor. He died at the age of 70 in 2009 and was buried with full honors at Arlington National Cemetery.

Who is the Most Decorated Soldier in US History?

So, as you can see, it’s not an easy call to make when deciding who is the most decorated soldier in US History.

Maybe you’d say that those with multiple Medals of Honor deserve to be recognized as the most decorated. Or perhaps it makes sense to count the number of times they’ve been honored.

Maybe it depends on the wars and battles they fought in and how dire the stakes were when their honors were achieved.

Who is the Most Decorated Soldier of All Time?

Still, it’s safe to say that there is not one single most decorated US soldier in all of history. Of those that we mentioned above, there are surely still countless heroic service members who aren’t listed.

We’ll let you decide. Who is the most decorated soldier of all time?

References:

https://www.toptenz.net/10-highly-decorated-american-soldiers-that-everyone-should-know.php

https://valor.defense.gov/Description-of-Awards/

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