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USAF Awards and Decorations

Capt. Edward V. Rickenbacker receiving two Oak Leaf Clusters to his Distinguished Service Cross from Lt. Gen. Hunter Liggett, commander of the 1st U.S. Army in France, in November 1918. After World War I, Rickenbacker -- America’s highest scoring ace in WWI -- was awarded the Medal of Honor. (U.S. Air Force photo)

Capt. Edward V. Rickenbacker receiving two Oak Leaf Clusters to his Distinguished Service Cross from Lt. Gen. Hunter Liggett, commander of the 1st U.S. Army in France, in November 1918. After World War I, Rickenbacker -- America’s highest scoring ace in WWI -- was awarded the Medal of Honor. (U.S. Air Force photo)

President Calvin Coolidge presents Distinguished Flying Cross citations to the Pan American Fliers on May 2, 1927. The first to circumnavigate South America by air, they were (left to right): 1st Lt. Charles Robinson, Capt. Arthur McDaniel, 1st Lt. Ennis Whitehead, Maj. Herbert Dargue, President Coolidge, Capt. Ira Eaker, 1st Lt. Muir Fairchild, 1st Lt. Bernard Thompson and 1st Lt. Leonard Weddington. They received the actual medals at a later date. (U.S. Air Force photo)

President Calvin Coolidge presents Distinguished Flying Cross citations to the Pan American Fliers on May 2, 1927. The first to circumnavigate South America by air, they were (left to right): 1st Lt. Charles Robinson, Capt. Arthur McDaniel, 1st Lt. Ennis Whitehead, Maj. Herbert Dargue, President Coolidge, Capt. Ira Eaker, 1st Lt. Muir Fairchild, 1st Lt. Bernard Thompson and 1st Lt. Leonard Weddington. They received the actual medals at a later date. (U.S. Air Force photo)

Gen. Douglas MacArthur presents the Medal of Honor to Maj. Richard Bong in December 1943. Bong was America’s highest scoring ace in World War II. (U.S. Air Force photo)

Gen. Douglas MacArthur presents the Medal of Honor to Maj. Richard Bong in December 1943. Bong was America’s highest scoring ace in World War II. (U.S. Air Force photo)

Recognition might come many years after the events. Here, Maj. Gen. (Ret.) Nels Running congratulates Eugene Mundy, who had just received the Korean War Service Medal from the Republic of Korea during a ceremony at the U.S. Soldiers’ and Airmen’s Home in Washington, D.C., in April 2001. Mundy, who served in the Air Force during the Korean War, was one of 34 veterans honored that day as part of the 50th anniversary of the Korean War. (U.S. Air Force photo)

Recognition might come many years after the events. Here, Maj. Gen. (Ret.) Nels Running congratulates Eugene Mundy, who had just received the Korean War Service Medal from the Republic of Korea during a ceremony at the U.S. Soldiers’ and Airmen’s Home in Washington, D.C., in April 2001. Mundy, who served in the Air Force during the Korean War, was one of 34 veterans honored that day as part of the 50th anniversary of the Korean War. (U.S. Air Force photo)

From World War I through the Korean War, Airmen received the same Medal of Honor as the U.S. Army. In 1960 Congress created several medals specifically for the USAF. The design for the highest of these three, the Air Force Medal of Honor, was approved in 1965. The first person to receive the new Air Force Medal of Honor was Maj. Bernard F. Fisher, whose medal was presented to him by President Lyndon B. Johnson in January 1967. (U.S. Air Force photo)

From World War I through the Korean War, Airmen received the same Medal of Honor as the U.S. Army. In 1960 Congress created several medals specifically for the USAF. The design for the highest of these three, the Air Force Medal of Honor, was approved in 1965. The first person to receive the new Air Force Medal of Honor was Maj. Bernard F. Fisher, whose medal was presented to him by President Lyndon B. Johnson in January 1967. (U.S. Air Force photo)

Sometimes, awards and decorations are presented posthumously. In a ceremony held at the National Museum of the U.S. Air Force on Dec. 8, 2000, Secretary of the Air Force F. Whitten "Whit" Peters presented the Medal of Honor to the parents, William F. and Alice Pitsenbarger, of Airman 1st Class William F. Pitsenbarger. Air Force Chief of Staff Gen. Michael E. Ryan (right) and about 1,800 guests attended the ceremony. (U.S. Air Force photo)

Sometimes, awards and decorations are presented posthumously. In a ceremony held at the National Museum of the U.S. Air Force on Dec. 8, 2000, Secretary of the Air Force F. Whitten "Whit" Peters presented the Medal of Honor to the parents, William F. and Alice Pitsenbarger, of Airman 1st Class William F. Pitsenbarger. Air Force Chief of Staff Gen. Michael E. Ryan (right) and about 1,800 guests attended the ceremony. (U.S. Air Force photo)

Air Force Chief of Staff Gen. T. Michael Moseley presents Capt. Allison Black of the 1st Special Operations Squadron, with the Air Force Combat Action Medal as Senior Master Sgt. Ramon Colon-Lopez stands at attention. Six Airmen received the medal in a ceremony June 12 at the Air Force Memorial in Arlington, Va. (U.S. Air Force photo/Staff Sgt. Brian Ferguson)

Air Force Chief of Staff Gen. T. Michael Moseley presents Capt. Allison Black of the 1st Special Operations Squadron, with the Air Force Combat Action Medal as Senior Master Sgt. Ramon Colon-Lopez stands at attention. Six Airmen received the medal in a ceremony June 12 at the Air Force Memorial in Arlington, Va. (U.S. Air Force photo/Staff Sgt. Brian Ferguson)

DAYTON, Ohio -- USAF Awards and Decorations exhibit at the National Museum of the U.S. Air Force. (U.S. Air Force photo)

DAYTON, Ohio -- USAF Awards and Decorations exhibit at the National Museum of the U.S. Air Force. (U.S. Air Force photo)

Note: This exhibit is located in the connecting link between the World War II and Korean War Galleries.

The U.S. Air Force bestows awards on individual military personnel and civilians in recognition of their heroism, self-sacrifice, outstanding achievement or other forms of service. Generally, awards given to individuals in recognition of personal valor are shaped like a star or cross -- like the Medal of Honor. The first U.S. award developed exclusively for Airmen was the Distinguished Flying Cross in 1926. All too often, our grateful nation has presented awards for personal valor to those who died while performing their acts of heroism. 

Other awards, usually shaped like coins, represent service in a campaign or war, or for some other notable achievement. Awards, such as the Presidential Unit Citation, recognize military units for outstanding achievements. Service medals, campaign medals, and service ribbons denote creditable military participation in a campaign, war, national emergency or expedition.

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