The Difference Between
The Bronze Star and The Bronze Battle Star

by Jeff Vicha
February 2009

I have received several inquiries recently from family members of 398th veterans asking if I had any information regarding the Bronze Star decoration. It has come to my attention that the Bronze Star appears on many service records for 398th vets, and here is where the confusion begins. I have studied the subject thoroughly over the past year or so, and I have found the following information regarding the Bronze Star. I hope this will clarify any questions anyone might have.

The Bronze Star is a major source of confusion. This is due to the fact that there are two decorations in the Armed Forces referred to as "The Bronze Star." The first is "The Bronze Star Medal" and the second is "The Bronze Battle Star." The two are very different decorations awarded for very different reasons which I shall explain below.

Bronze Star Medal

The Bronze Star Medal is a decoration awarded for heroic or meritorious achievement. This decoration was established on February 4, 1944 by Executive Order 9419 which states under Section B. the following:

"The Bronze Star Medal is awarded to any person who, while serving in any capacity in or with the Army of the United States after 6 December 1941, distinguished himself or herself by heroic or meritorious achievement or service, not involving participation in aerial flight, in connection with military operations against an armed enemy; or while engaged in military operations involving conflict with an opposing armed force in which the United States is not a belligerent party."

These provisions clearly state The Bronze Star Medal was designed specifically for those in the armed services not involved in aerial warfare. The Bronze Star was primarily created for the Army engaged in ground combat. In 1944 pressure from the Air Corps resulted in a change which allowed the decoration to also be awarded in recognition of the often heroic deeds of individuals on the ground such as ground crews maintaining fighters and bombers, and airmen performing deeds while not engaged in aerial combat.

Bronze Battle Star

The Bronze Battle Star is an attachment worn in conjunction with another medal, such as the Oak Leaf Cluster is worn with the Air Medal. The Bronze Battle Star is worn on the campaign ribbon (the Eastern Theater Offensive or "ETO" ribbon in the case of 398th vets), and denotes an individuals participation in a specific battle, engagement or offensive. The Bronze Battle Star is often called the following names in military documents and jargon: bronze star, battle star, or campaign star.

It is quite easy to see how these two distinct decorations can be easily mistaken for each other. What the vast majority of 398th vets have are one or more "Bronze Battle Stars", indicating their participation in a given engagement during their tour of duty. For example, my grandfather was awarded 5 Bronze Battle Stars to be worn with his ETO ribbon. He was awarded a Bronze Battle Star for each of the following engagements/battles:

  1. Air Offensive Europe,
  2. The Normandy Invasion,
  3. The Northern France Offensive,
  4. The Ardennes/Battle of the Bulge, and
  5. The Germany Invasion

I am lucky to have the documents that make note of these battles, this information is missing from most records.

Also, another point of frustration when searching for specific engagements is the fact that most Bronze Battle Stars were awarded long after the specific offensive had taken place. Without the documentation, it is very hard to know what a Bronze Battle Star may have been awarded for. The easiest way to get an idea of what the star might have been awarded for is to compare the flight record of the individual with the ground battles that were taking place at that time. Many Air Corps targets were hit in support of ground forces in the vicinity. If an individual flew numerous missions early in June 1944, chances are they were awarded a Bronze Battle Star for the Normandy Invasion. If records show missions flown in late December 1944, it is easy to assume that a Bronze Battle Star was awarded for The Ardennes/Battle of the Bulge.

Were there any 398th Bronze Star Medal recipients? Yes.

Records from shortly after the war indicate that 17 men were awarded the Bronze Star Medal for heroic and meritorious acts while serving with the 398th. I have compiled a list of these men, and have found 13 of 17 recipients. The names can be found on in the 398th Bomb Group Bronze Star Award List or in the "Individual Awards" section under "The Bronze Star Award" heading. All 13 of the known recipients were ground crew members, giving credibility to the official requirement that the Bronze Star only be awarded to those not involved in aerial flight.

It is believed that the Bronze Star Medal was awarded to crew chiefs who had one of their planes reach the 50 mission mark without an abort or mechanical failure. It is also thought that one or two of the 398th recipients had been awarded the decoration for rescuing airmen whose planes had crashed during landing or takeoff. I am currently trying to find documentation of these events.

In closing, the easiest way to distinguish the difference between the two medals is to remember that the Bronze Star Medal was awarded for heroic or meritorious deeds that took place on the ground. The Bronze Battle Star was not a medal in itself, but an attachment to be worn with the Eastern Theater Offensive Medal, denoting participation in a specific engagement.

I am always interested to see original documents in an effort to expand my knowledge on the subject. Please feel free to share your questions or comments with me, I'll do my best to help out.

Jeff Vicha, 398th Awards Coordinator

 

Notes:

  1. Published on 39th Web Pages: February 25, 2009