The Air Medal was established by Executive Order 9158 signed by President Franklin D. Roosevelt on May 11, 1942.

Effective Dates

The Air Medal is retroactive to September 8, 1939.


The Air Medal may be awarded to individuals who, while serving in any capacity with the Armed Forces, distinguish themselves by heroism, outstanding achievement, or by meritorious service while participating in aerial flight, but not of a degree that would justify an award of the Distinguished Flying Cross.


The Air Medal is worn after the Bronze Star Medal and before Joint Service Commendation Medal. For Air Force personnel it is worn before the Aerial Achievement Medal.

  • Army
  • Bronze "V" Device
The Bronze "V" device was authorized for wear on Air Medals awarded for acts of heroism involving conflict with an armed enemy, effective February 29, 1964.
  • Numerals
Arabic numerals three-sixteenths of an inch high are used in lieu of a second and succeeding awards of the Air Medal.
  • Navy and Marine Corps
  • Gold and Silver Stars (five-sixteenths of an inch in diameter)
Stars are worn to denote subsequent awards of the Air Medal as individual awards based on heroic or meritorious achievement while participating in aerial flight. Gold stars are used for the second through the fifth, seventh through tenth awards, and so on. Silver stars are used in lieu of five gold stars, and denote the sixth and eleventh (and so on) awards.
  • Strike/Flight Numerals
Second and subsequent awards Strike/ Flight Air Medals are denoted by Arabic numerals five-sixteenths of an inch in height. Strike/flight awards are made for meritorious achievement while participating in sustained aerial fight operations, and the Arabic numerals denote the total number of Strike/Flight awards. Only personnel under flight orders are eligible to receive the strike/flight award of an Air Medal. Officers in the rank of captain (or colonel in the Marine Corps) are not eligible for award of the Air Medal on a strike/flight basis unless the sorties they fly are required in the performance of their regular duties.

Strikes are sorties that deliver ordnance against the enemy, land or evacuate personnel in an assault, or in which personnel are engaged in search and rescue operations. The distinguishing feature of a strike is that it encounters enemy opposition.

Flights are sorties that deliver ordnance against the enemy, land or evacuate personnel in an assault, or in which personnel are engaged in search and rescue operations. The distinguishing feature of a flight is that although it takes place in a nominally hostile environment, it does not encounter enemy opposition.
  • Combat Distinguishing Device
The Combat Distinguishing Device has been authorized for use with the Air Medal effective April 5, 1974.
  • Air Force
Additional awards are denoted by Oak Leaf Clusters. The Air Force does not use Strike/Flight Numerals.
  • Coast Guard
Subsequent awards of the Air Medal are denoted by wearing gold and silver stars five-sixteenths of an inch in diameter. Second and subsequent awards are denoted by a gold star, and five gold stars are denoted by a silver star.


The Air Medal was designed and sculpted by Walker Hancock.


The first recipient of the Air Medal was not recorded.



The obverse is a bronze compass rose of sixteen points and is one and eleven sixteenths inches in circumscribing diameter. The compass rose is suspended by a fleur-de-lis. In the center of the obverse there is an eagle volant, swooping downward and carrying a lighting bolt in each talon.

The compass rose reflects the global capacity of American air power, represented by the American bald eagle. The lightning bolts in the eagle's talons allude to the ability of the United States to wage war from the air. The Fleur-de-lis, the French symbol of nobility, represents the high ideals of American airmen.


The points of the compass rose on the reverse are modeled with the central portion plain for inscribing the recipient's name.


The ribbon is predominantly ultramarine blue with two orange-gold stripes just inside each edge and were selected because they were the colors of the Army Air Force.


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