Much like the combat which the men and women endured during wartime, there are many controversies surrounding America’s most decorated war veteran. There is the debate over whether to consider a pure ‘medal count’, which would include medals received for being wounded, acts of service, etc. or only considering those receiving medals for acts of courage under fire. When I started this hub, I only considered the medal count.
When it comes to courage under fire, it is hard to measure which soldier, sailor or marine has the greatest bravery. Many brave men and women have died bravely which we have never even heard of. Their Creator knows who they are and what they did. I have included many of the persons that I have been educated about during the process of maintaining this hub.
The most decorated veteran status has been attributed to Audie Murphy of Texas. Audie Murphy was considered America’s most decorated veteran with 33 medals earned in 27 months of combat. His earning of so many decorations in such a short time is amazing. Some career soldiers have many well deserved honors over an extended period of time. For a soldier to earn so many decorations so quickly was astonishing.
Besides the medals bestowed on him by the United States, he received five from France and one from Belgium. Since many of his medals were awarded while serving during World War II, he gained great notoriety. Fellow soldier, and World War II veteran, David Hackworth stayed in the service and gained more awards.
David Hackworth of California is now considered America’s most decorated soldier with 90 decorations, citations and awards. He is proudest of his Combat Infantryman Badge. He received the Distinguished Service Cross (with oak leaf cluster), the Silver Star (with 1 Silver Oak Leaf Cluster and 4 Oak Leaf Clusters), the Legion of Merit (with 4 Oak Leaf Clusters), the Bronze Star (with V device and one silver Oak Leaf Cluster and one Oak Leaf Cluster), the Purple Hear (with one silver Oak Leaf Cluster and one Oak Leaf Cluster), the Air Medal, Army Commendation Medal, Good Conduct Medal, World War II Victory Medal, Army of Occupation Medal, Korean Service Medal, Vietnam Service. He is the most decorated Vietnam veteran.
After World War II, Audie Murphy went on to star in 44 movies and establish himself as a country western music composer. At that time there was great controversy over who best embodied the hero spirit, Audie Murphy, who was a true hero or John Wayne who was a film hero. The controversy continued as groups debated who was a better role model for the youth of America.
There was also a controversy concerning the debate over who was the most decorated veteran, Audie Murphy or Matt L. Urban. When posing the question who was the most decorated, one must consider whether they were decorated by the United States or other nations.
New York born Matt L. Urban has been touted as having as many decorations as Audie Murphy in World War II. He was an officer, earning 7 Purple Hearts, the Legion of Merit, the Croix de Guerre with a Silver Star and the Congressional Medal of Honor. He personally led his men in amazing feats, from landing in North Africa, to personally knocking out communications towers while under fire. The Congressional Medal of Honor was awarded to him by President Jimmy Carter, 35 years after the war.
The most decorated veteran of the Vietnam War was Joe Hooper of Moses Lake, Washington. Hooper was awarded 35 medals, including the Congressional Medal of Honor, two Silver Stars, six Bronze Stars and eight Purple Hearts. His tally exceeds that of Murphy, York, Keene or Urban. Hooper’s life after the war was filled with conflict and controversy which contributes to his being overlooked by many historians. Like the war itself which stirred up strong emotions and controversy, the most decorated veteran of that war was filled with controversies as well. One of the more controversial episodes was when he told a group of high school students,
“I would tell my children, if I were to do this over, ‘Go to Canada, don’t fight.’ Don’t fight a war you can’t win.”
His tragic life ended when he died of a brain hemorrhage at 40 years old. He was later interred at Arlington National Cemetery.
Such controversies over who was the most decorated also existed in the first World War.
For World War I, Alvin York of Tennessee has long been identified as the most decorated American soldier in that conflict, although some historians claim that George Lawson Keene of Texas was the most decorated.
Alvin York received the Distinguished Service Cross, which was later upgraded to the Medal of Honor. He also received the Croix de Guerre and the Legion of honor from the French government.. The nations of Italy and Montenegro bestowed their Croce di Guerra and War medals on him as well.
George Lawson Keene of Texas received the he received was the Medal of Honor and Silver Star with Oak Leaf Cluster. He was also wounded seven times during his service, leading to his being awarded the purple heart he also received the Distinguished Service Cross, the Cross of Honor, the French Croix de Guerre with Palm, Knights of Verdun, and the French Commemorative medal. The French decorations were personally awarded to him by Marshal Ferdinand Foch.
The honor for the most decorated woman veteran goes to Colonel Ruby Bradley. She spent time as a Japanese POW and later served in Korea. She was awarded the following medals and awards Legion of Merit medals, the Bronze Star, two Presidential Emblems, the Meritorious Unit Emblem, The American Defense Service Medal, the American Campaign Medal, the Asiatic-Pacific Campaign Medal, the World War II Victory Medal, the Army Occupational Medal with Japan clasp, three Korea Service medals, the Philippine Liberation Medal, the Philippine Independence Ribbon and the United Nations Service Medal.
Robert L. Howard of Alabama has the distinction of being the only soldier nominated for three Congressional Medal of Honor Awards within a thirteen month period. This was a unique accomplishment which considered his courage under fire. It was also worthy to note that the understrength company her served in was the most highly decorated unit for its size, with its members having five Congressional Medals of Honor.
The Oklahoma born James Gritz (aka James ‘Bo” Gritz) was raised by his grandparents, since he father had been killed in combat. Throughout his life, he excelled in many areas. When he enlisted in the army, he advanced through the ranks. When his military career was over, he had earned 62 medals for his courage. After leaving the military he continued serving as a minister and adviser. His outspoken support for oppressed Americans and the preservation of life, earned him the ire of government officials when he discovered their involvement in the drug trade out of the golden triangle area of Burma. It was his involvement that helped resolve the situations at Ruby Ridge with Randy Weaver and the Montana Freemen. He also directly participated in efforts at locating missing POW’s in Vietnam in the years after the war and protested in the Terry Schaivo case.
Most Decorated Navy and Marine Heroes and Others
After initially posting the hub, I was made aware of many highly decorated heroes worth mentioning. There are other heroes that have valiantly served their nation which I was unable to include due to space issues. When it comes to military decorations, they are classified by the service and the conflict. I have been made aware of many American heroes, which include the following:
The most decorated Marine title goes to Lewis B. “Chesty” Puller (1898-1971) of Virginia.. During his 37 years of service, he became the only marine to earn five Navy crosses. There have also been books written about his life. Chesty Puller also had a long history of military activities and being a tough guy. He fought guerrillas in Haiti and Nicaragua. The guerrillas in Nicaragua eventually called him the “Tiger of the Mountains” and placed a 5,000 peso reward on his head.
He also served in World War II and Korea. It was in Korea, that he accomplished the unprecedented feat of earning a fifth Navy Cross, which has never been repeated by anyone else. Some Pulley followers claim that he would have had even more medals, bu the refused to play political games with the higher ups.
Puller knew about dealing with guerrilla warfare and how ugly war could get. His grandmother had been killed by Yankee soldiers and her home burned after they found her dead husband’s spurs hanging on the wall. The soldiers considered the spurs ‘military supplies’ and thereby contraband, so they deemed her worthy of being murdered. Such atrocities shaped his thinking and toughness is difficult situations. To this day, the Marines at Parris Island end the evening by saying “Good Night Chesty Puller, wherever you are!”
Colonel Robert Howard, USA, (1939-2009) who has recently passed away is another contender for the most decorated. Colonel Howard was an Army Special Forces soldier who displayed amazing feats of heroism in Vietnam. In addition to being awarded the Congressional Medal of Honor, he also received the Distinguished Service Cross, Silver Star, Bronze Star (2), eight purple hearts and a many other awards.
World War I veteran, Paul Jarrett was awarded with the French Legion of Honor Award when he was 101 years old for his accomplishments in the war. A street in France was also named in his honor.The French did not forget the deeds done for their nation. His grandson did a documentary entitled “The Return of Paul Jarrett” which documents his life and service in the 166th brigade of the 42nd Infantry Division..
Another highly decorated hero is pilot, William J. Maddox, who died in 2001. During his time in the service he received the Distinguished Service Medal, four Silver Stars, 127 Air Medals, eight Distinguished Flying Crosses and five Legions of Merit.
Lieutenant Colonel Anthony “Tony” Herbert has been called the most decorated soldier of the Vietnam War. He also has the distinction of being the most decorated soldier of the Korean War. Herbert wrote an autobiography (Soldier) of his time in the service. His career was controversial in that he reported on atrocities committed by American soldiers in Vietnam, which led to some concerns in the media and military circles.
James Williams USN was the most decorated man in naval history.. James accomplished his notable achievements over his 20 years of faithful service in the United States Navy.
Do People Ever Lie About Decorations?
Sadly, many people have lied about valor and the decorations they were awarded from the military. The extent of lying grew to be such a problem that a law was passed entitled the ” Stolen Valor Act” that made it illegal to lie about decorations that have been awarded. A recent case in California involved Xavier Alvarez, a water board member in Pamona, California. Alvarez bragged that he had served in the Marine Corps and was awarded the Congressional Medal of Honor. When an investigation revealed that he had not served and had not been awarded that decoration, the case went to court. The Ninth Circuit Court claimed that his lying did not hurt anyone, and was a form of protected speech in this matter. The court went further and declared the prohibitions in the act as ‘unconstitutional’ and that Alvarez committed no crime.