Everyone knows the “I’m important!” feeling of getting their first medal and the “Oh, this dog and pony show again?” of getting pretty much every award after that.
It was probably a little different for these guys when they got a medal with their own face plastered on the front. There has to be a whole different feeling that wells up when your medal doubles as a form of ID.
1. Rear Adm. William T. Sampson
Rear Adm. William T. Sampson entered the Navy in 1857 and served on the blockade of the American South during the Civil War. He went on to distinguish himself in the Spanish-American War, leading both blockades and attacks around Cuba.
Sailors who fought in major engagements in the West Indies during the Spanish American War received the Sampson Medal, also called the West Indies Naval Campaign Medal. The medal could only be given once, with additional awards being given as campaign bars affixed to the ribbon.
2. Gen. of the Armies John “Blackjack” Pershing
Gen. of the Armies John Pershing is known for the expedition to capture Pancho Villa, a Mexican revolutionary, and for being the top American commander in Europe in World War I. He is also one of only two men to hold the rank of General of the Armies, a rank senior to all other generals in the U.S. military. George Washington is the only other General of the Armies, and he received the rank posthumously.
The Army of Occupation of Germany Medal bears Pershing’s face and was awarded first to Pershing himself. It was created in 1941 and used to retroactively honor troops who served in Germany and Austria-Hungary during the occupation from 1918 to 1923.
3. Adm. of the Navy George Dewey
Adm. of the Navy George Dewey served from 1858 to 1917. In 1903, he was retroactively promoted to Admiral of the Navy effective 1899. He is the only Admiral of the Navy in history and the rank was awarded partially in recognition of his service at the Battle of Manila Bay.
At the Battle of Manila Bay, then-Commodore George Dewey led a small American fleet that destroyed a large but outdated Spanish fleet in the Philippines. The victory was a huge news story in America and Congress authorized a medal for every sailor and Marine who served in the battle. Dewey was known to wear the medal backwards, showing the sailor on the reverse rather than his own face.
4. Rear Adm. Richard E. Byrd III
Rear Adm. Richard E. Byrd III earned his fame through a series of challenging Antarctic expeditions and also served in World War II. Promoted to rear admiral at the age of 41, he was the youngest admiral in U.S. history.
He bears the unique honor of being the only American to have his face on not one but two medals that he was authorized to wear. The Byrd Antarctic Expedition Medal and the Second Byrd Antarctic Expedition Medal were established to honor the service members who explored the continent for America.