Valor Friday

| January 1, 2021

When researching past heroes, it’s common to see a phrase like “most decorated soldier” of a particular war, but what exactly does that mean? It’s largely open to some interpretation. Both the Army and the Air Force have point based systems in place for awards and decorations when it comes time to promote to certain ranks.

Of these, the Air Force model seems the most balanced. The Army rates all three of the military’s highest awards for valor at the same 40 points. The Air Force meanwhile allows more points for a Medal of Honor recipient than to an Air Force Cross.

As I researched this topic I find it’s very hard to compare, even boiling it down to points. Differences in how the services award medals and, even more importantly, the time period in question makes it hard to make comparisons. In particular, the awarding of Air Medals greatly skew things around the Vietnam-era. Foreign awards also can greatly skew things.

There are also variations in the nature of the man’s service. For example, in the Army and Marines, it’s fairly common for those who earn the Medal of Honor or a service cross to be pulled from the frontline. Aviators and submarine skippers generally remained in the field, usually earning additional awards for their continued action. Both of those professions are thus over-represented.

Let’s look at who can claim what title(s).

By branch and rank (most decorated of all time);

Naval Officer – Rear Admiral James Linder. Naval aviator of WWII, Korea, and Vietnam. Not serving overseas during WWII, he saw extensive combat in Korea and Vietnam and earned a plethora of valor medals, including a Navy Cross, four Silver Stars, Seven Distinguished Flying Crosses, and 27 Air Medals.

Naval Enlisted – Boatsain’s Mate First Class (Honorary Chief) James “Willie” Williamson. First seeing combat in the Korean War he really was a one-man wrecking crew along the Mekong River Delta in Vietnam as a brown water navy boat captain. In a span of a year there he earned the Medal of Honor, Navy Cross, two Silver Stars, the Legion of Merit w/ “V”, three Bronze Stars w/ “V”, three Purple Hearts, and the Navy and Marine Corps Medal (the highest non-combat bravery award).

Army Officer – Major General Patrick Brady was an Army aviator. As a dust off helicopter pilot during Vietnam he earned the Medal of Honor, Distinguished Service Cross, six Distinguished Flying Crosses, two Bronze Stars w/ “V”, a Purple Heart, and 52 Air Medals (which really help run up his awards total).

Army Enlisted – Some men’s awards totals are affected by a large number of a particular award, such was the case in the aforementioned General Brady. Similarly, the most decorated US Army enlisted man of all time is Sergeant Major Billy Waugh. After serving in Korea, he joined the nascent Green Berets and served in Vietnam. Before retiring after 24 years of service and becoming a CIA paramilitary operations specialist he earned a Silver Star, four Bronze Stars, 14 Air Medals, and at least one Army Commendation Medal w/ “V”. What really runs up his score here are his eight Purple Hearts.

Air Force Officer – Colonel Ralph Parr was a pilot in the Army Air Forces during WWII in the Pacific Theater, then saw extensive combat action in both the Korean and Vietnam Wars. To date he is the only man to have received both the Air Force Cross and the Army’s Distinguished Service Cross. He also held a Silver Star, 10 Distinguished Flying Crosses, a Bronze Star, and 41 Air Medals.

Air Force Enlisted – Duane Hackney is far and away the most decorated enlisted airman. The Vietnam War Pararescueman earned the Air Force Cross, Silver Star, four Distinguished Flying Crosses, the Airman’s Medal, two Purple Hearts, 18 Air Medals, and at least one Air Force Commendation Medal w/ “V”.

Marine Corps Officer – It will surprise no student of Marine Corps history that Lieutenant General Chesty Puller is the USMC’s most decorated officer. His six service crosses (5 Navy and 1 Distinguished Service Cross), Silver Star, two Legions of Merit w/ “V”, Bronze Star w/ “V”, three Air Medals, and Purple Heart put him well in the lead.

Marine Corps Enlisted – Sergeant Major Dan Daly, who encouraged his men to make a charge on the enemy during WWI with the line “Come on, you sons of bitches, do you want to live forever?” is also no shocker to those knowing USMC history. His two Medals of Honor, Navy Cross, Distinguished Service Cross, and Silver Star put him in the lead among Leathernecks wearing stripes.

Before I discuss the Coast Guard, it’s worth noting that due to the nature of their service, few men have received valor awards.

Coast Guard Officer – Lieutenant Commander Warren Gill received the Navy Cross for action at Salerno, Italy during the Second World War. He was also nearly killed in the incident, receiving a Purple Heart. He also received a Legion of Merit for his performance just before and during the Salerno Campaign.

Coast Guard Enlisted – Signalman First Class Douglas Munro is the only Coastie to have ever received the Medal of Honor. He received the award posthumously for his combat bravery at Guadalcanal in support of Marines conducting an amphibious assault on the island stronghold.

Which of these men can claim the top spot for most decorated officer or enlisted man in history?

Patrick Brady is the most decorated American officer of all time, while Duane Hackney is the most decorated enlisted man. Surprised yet?

Some of the above names will certainly come up as we explore by conflict.

World War I –

The most decorated man and most decorated officer of WWI is then-Lieutenant Commander (later Vice Admiral) Joel Thompson Boone. A Navy medical doctor, he is also the most decorated medical officer in American history. He earned the Medal of Honor, Distinguished Service Cross, six Silver Stars, and three Purple Hearts during WWI.

A close second for the title of most decorated officer is Captain Eddie Rickenbacker, the US’s top air ace of the war. During his service over France he downed 26 enemy aircraft and earned the Medal of Honor and seven Distinguished Service Crosses (a record for service crosses that will likely never be topped). Some sources cite Rickenbacker as the most decorated American of the war.

On the enlisted side, most common sources list Sergeant Alvin York as the most decorated man of the war. He earned the Medal of Honor in a truly incredible one-man stand, but that was his only medal earned during the war.

Going by my points system, US Army Private First Class Charles Barger is the most decorated. He earned the Medal of Honor, but his whopping 10 Purple Hearts put him over the top. He received a host of high honors from France, Great Britain, Belgium, and Luxembourg as well for his combat performance.

Again, a close second, Sergeant Major Dan Daly of the Marine Corps (talked about above) is the second-most decorated enlisted man of the war.

World War II –

The most decorated man of the war is often said to be First Lieutenant Audie Murphy, but there are a few who out do even his numerous awards and decorations. Top of the list is Major Thomas McGuire of the Army Air Forces. The second highest scoring fighter ace of the war, he earned the Medal of Honor, Distinguished Service Cross, three Silver Stars, six Distinguished Flying Crosses, three Purple Hearts, and 15 Air Medals.

The highest scoring fighter ace, Major Richard Bong of the Army Air Forces, is a close second with a Medal of Honor, Distinguished Service Cross, two Silver Stars, seven Distinguished Flying Crosses, and 15 Air Medals.

In and on the water, the most decorated officer is then-Commander (later Rear Admiral) Richard O’Kane of the Navy’s silent service. He earned a Medal of Honor, three Navy Crosses, three Silver Stars, a Legion of Merit w/ “V”, a Purple Heart, and a Navy Commendation Medal w/ “V”.

Audie Murphy is the most decorated ground combat man of the war. A Medal of Honor, Distinguished Service Cross, two Silver Stars, a Legion of Merit, two Bronze Star Medals, and three Purple Hearts were joined with a host of foreign awards from France and Belgium.

Next week we’ll explore Korea, Vietnam, and more recent conflicts.

Category: Air Force, Army, Coast Guard, Historical, Marines, Navy, We Remember

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Any list of most decorated that doesn’t include this man is IMO a bit suspect. I’d guess not many have been awarded the MoH/Service Cross/SS “trifecta”. Howard was – he was actually nominated 3 times for the MoH, but the 1st two were downgraded to the SS and DSC, respectively – along with every other Army decoration for valor in ground combat that existed during Vietnam. He also was awarded 3 Air Medals, one for valor, along with 8 Purple Hearts (he was reputedly wounded in combat 14 times but considered 6 of the wounds “too minor” to have warranted a Purple Heart and apparently didn’t receive medical treatment for them or otherwise somehow managed to block the award). He also was awarded a number of fairly high decorations for service vice valor as well.

Not sure if he’d fall into the officer or enlisted “bin”, though; much of his service in Vietnam was enlisted, but he received a battlefield commission and finished his career as an officer.

And the real shame is that outside the military (and perhaps even outside the Army) few have ever heard of the man.

RIP, COL Howard.


Ol’ Poe had the honor of serving in the same rifle company as Bob Howard back in the early ’60’s: Echo Company, 1st Airborne Battle Group, 327th Infantry, 101st Airborne Division.

Tim Hula

Bob Howard is not on this list. Check him out

Name edited to protect PII.

Prior Service

I’d love to be invisible inside the room where all these humble gentlemen were just a bit tipsy and started talking smack amongst themselves.


Point value of the NDSM?

Asking for a friend…


Free chow at Golden Corral in November


My question is: how in the BLUE FUCK did BM1 Willie Williams only make HONORARY Chief? The guy had every medal known to man and somehow he wasn’t COMPETITIVE enough for promotion? He served his 20 and someone they didn’t promote him to Chief on active duty. Wild


The ways of the selection board are now, and have always, been inscrutable.

I’m going to hazard a guess he told 1 or 2 E7s to go fornicate themselves.

He also was a US Marshall. Not Deputy Marshal but an actual Marshal.


I was thinking the same thing. He retired in 1967, his Nacy Cross and MOH citations were for actions in 1966. When the Chiefs selection board convened in 1966, he may have already put in his request to transfer to the Fleet Reserve (I.e. retire from Active Duty), and as such, not considered for promotion, and he may not have received those awards yet. He was also a Boatswains Mate, and that rate may not have hade a high selection rate for Chief. I honestly believe that if he had decided to stay in the Navy past 20, he could/would have retired as a Master Chief Boatswains Mate.


I didn’t think about retirement. That’s as likely an explanation as anything else.

Either way he is a great example of a veteran who didn’t let his time in service define him for the rest of his life. There’s definitely a lesson there.


Damn good point. Either way, hell of a sailor and a HELL of a man.


“…that such men lived…”

Great write up/presentation Mason. Thanks! The stories of these heros should be repeated to each generation and the stories of each generation’s heros added to them.

Thanks to Hondo from reminding us of Colonel Howard. You may note that Hondo’s article was presented on Colonel Howard’s Birthday. I remember reading this post way back in my lurking years, albeit, several days after it was posted. I had the pleasure of meeting Colonel Howard (then CPT(?) Howard) very briefly at Bragg when I was with the MI Det (ARS). Delivered some photos out to McCall. Very humble dedicated warrior. The type you’d follow thru the gates of hell, fight til hell freezes over, then fight them on ice. Would have been an honor to serve with/under his command.

I noticed something else when re-reading Hondo’s posted comment. Out of the 43 comments on that thread, nearly 30 of the commenters are no longer hanging around. Several have more than 1 comment which is not unusual. I get curious as to where some of our Brothers are. If you are a lurking, drop by and say, Hey! You are missed.


Thanks, Mason.


Joe Hooper is one for the books also.
BSX6 With V
ACMX2 with V


Have to wonder what the points count was for Hackworth.

Three Purple Heats for a rivrr rat… why wasn’t he evacced ASAP. Isn’t that Kerry’s schtick?

While I respect the combat wounded, I am more impressed with what someone DID. “Enemy Marksmanship Medal” and “The I Forgot to Duck Award” were common descriptions post-Vietnam.


Seems like the Medal of Honor should be like the equivalent of the golden snitch (apologies to those who are unfamiliar with Harry Potter). Whatever else you have, the MoH should count for a lot. But that’s just this guy’s opinion.


[…] in a continuing series exploring just who is the “Most Decorated”. Part I can be found here from last week. We worked our way up through the Second World War. Things get a bit difficult […]