Appendix D – U.S. Merchant Marine Medals and Awards

U.S. Merchant Marine Medals and Awards
Distinguished Service Medal
The Merchant Marine Distinguished Service Medal is the highest award which can be
bestowed upon members of the U.S. Merchant Marine. The medal is the service’s
equivalent of the Medal of Honor because Merchant Mariners, even those on Inactive
Duty in the Naval Reserve, are not on Active Duty they are not eligible for the Medal of
Honor. It is awarded to any seaman in the U.S. Merchant Marine who, on or after
September 3, 1939, distinguished themself by outstanding conduct or service in the line
of duty. Regulations state that not more than one medal shall be issued to any one
person, but for each succeeding instance sufficient to justify the award of a medal,
there will be awarded a suitable insignia to be worn with the medal.

Meritorious Service Medal
The Merchant Marine Meritorious Service Medal was awarded to any seaman of any
ship operated by or for the War Shipping Administration who was commended by the
Administrator for conduct or service of a meritorious nature, but not sufficient to warrant
the Merchant Marine Distinguished Service Medal.

Gallant Ship Unit Citation
The Merchant Marine Gallant Ship Citation Ribbon is awarded to officers and seamen
who served on a United States vessel or to a foreign-flagged vessel, which at the time
of service, participated in outstanding or gallant action in marine disasters or other
emergencies for the purpose of saving life or property at sea. At the center of the ribbon
is a silver seahorse device.
Nine ships, and their crews, were awarded the Gallant Ship Unit Citation during World
War II
SS Adoniram Judson
SS Cedar Mills
SS Marcus Daly
SS Nathaniel Greene
SS Samuel Parker
SS Stanvac Calcutta
SS Stephen Hopkins
SS Virginia Dare
SS William Moultrie

Gallant Ship Unit Citation
Ribbon

Gallant Ship Unit Citation Plaque
Awarded to Ship

Mariner’s Medal

The Mariner’s Medal is the U.S. Merchant Marine’s equivalent of the Military Purple
Heart. The medal is awarded to any seaman who while serving in a ship during a war
period is wounded, suffers physical injury, or suffers through dangerous exposure as a
result of an act of enemy of the United States.

Combat Bar or Ribbon

The Combat Bar was awarded to members of the Merchant Marine who served on a
ship when it was attacked or damaged by an enemy or an instrument of war, such as a
mine during the second World War. This award is a ribbon bar only, without a medal.
Further prescribed, is the issuance a silver star to be attached to such bar to seamen
who are forced to abandon ship when it is so attacked or damaged. For each additional
abandonment, an additional star is attached.

Other Merchant Marine Bar or Ribbon Awards

Defense
This bar or ribbon was awarded to members of the Merchant Marine who served
aboard United States merchant ships between September 8, 1939 and December 7,
1941.

Atlantic War Zone
This bar or ribbon was awarded to officers and men of ships operated by the War
Shipping Administration for service in the Atlantic War Zone between December 7,
1941, and November 8, 1945. This theatre of operations comprised the North Atlantic
Ocean, South Atlantic Ocean, Gulf of Mexico, Caribbean Sea, Barents Sea, and
Greenland Sea.

Mediterranean-Middle East War Zone
This bar or ribbon was awarded to officers and men of ships operated by the War
Shipping Administration for service in the Mediterranean-Middle East War Zone
between December 7, 1941, and November 8, 1945. This theater of operations
comprised the Mediterranean Sea, Red Sea, Arabian Sea, and Indian Ocean west of
eighty degrees east longitude.

Pacific War Zone
This bar or ribbon was awarded to officers and men of ships operated by the War
Shipping Administration for service in the Pacific War Zone between December 7,
1941, to March 2, 1946. This theatre of operations comprised the North Pacific, South
Pacific, and the Indian Ocean east of 80 degrees east longitude.

World War II Victory Medal
This was awarded to members of the crews of ships who served 30 days or more
during the period December 7, 1941 to September 3, 1945.

Awards or issued by U.S. or Foreign Militaries to Merchant Mariners

Prisoner of War
May be awarded to any person who was a prisoner of war after April 5, 1917, (the date
of the United States entry into World War I). The person’s conduct, while in captivity,
must have been honorable. This medal may be awarded posthumously to the surviving
next of kin of the recipient.

Philippine Defense
Presented to any service member, of either the Philippine military or an allied armed
force, which participated in the defense of the Philippine Islands between December 8,
1941 and June 15, 1942.

Philippine Liberation
Presented to any service member, of both Philippine and allied militaries, who
participated in the liberation of the Philippine Islands between the dates of October 17,
1944 and September 2, 1945.

Soviet Commemorative Medal
Awarded by the Russian Government upon the “Fiftieth Anniversary in the Victory of the
Great Patrotic War” to U.S. merchant mariners who participated in the Arctic Convoys
to the city of Murmansk.

Service and Other Emblems

Honorable Service Button
Awarded to members of the crews of ships who served for 30 days during the period
December 7, 1941, to September 3, 1945.

Merchant Marine Service
Prescribed as an identifying insignia to be issued to all seamen.

Service Flag and Lapel Button
A Merchant Marine Service flag and a service lapel button are prescribed for display by
members of the immediate families of seamen serving in the American Merchant
Marine during the war period. If the seaman symbolized is killed, or dies while serving,
the white star will have superimposed thereon a gold star of smaller size so that the
white forms a border. The service lapel button is of enameled metal, and its design a
miniature of the service flag. It may be displayed by members of the immediate families
of seamen serving in the American Merchant Marine during the war period.
A family member might wear a “son in service” pin that family members would wear to
show support for a son, brother, or husband serving in the Merchant Marine during
WWII.

8 thoughts on “Appendix D – U.S. Merchant Marine Medals and Awards

  1. My father is celebrating his 90th birthday tomorrow. He never received the Victory Medal for service in the Merchant Marines during WWII. He has his bars of Atlantic War Zone, Mediterranean-Middle East War Zone, and the Pacific War Zone. How can I obtain the Victory Medal for him? His name is Richard K. Gross and he served on the SS John W Brown Liberty Ship.

    Thank you.
    Holly

    • Happy 90th Birthday to your Father. I will reach out to others to try to answer your question about the Victory Medal; I do not know the answer.

      • Dear Holly,
        You probably are aware that the ship your father served on in WWII is now a museum ship in Baltimore Harbor, call up more info on the ship in the internet.

        I Goggled the following: ‘Merchant Marine Victory Medal WW II how apply’
        Several sources were noted. One offers a miniature medal and ribbon; others offer the full size, including Amazon, at $24.95

        Places to buy Merchant Marine medals:
        Ship’s Service Store
        United States Merchant Marine Academy
        Kings Point, NY 11024
        (516) 773-5000 ext 5229

        Other info
        On May 19, 1992, the U.S. Department of Transportation announced the availability of new medals for civilian merchant seamen, in recognition of their service in World War II, Korea and Vietnam. The medals are being issued to supplement war zone ribbon bars previously awarded to civilian mariners who supported the nation’s armed forces in these wars.
        Merchant marine medals approved for distribution to eligible merchant mariners for World War II merchant marine service are:
        Atlantic War Zone Medal – for mariners who served in the Atlantic War Zone including the North Atlantic, South Atlantic, Gulf of Mexico, Caribbean, Barents Sea, and the Greenland Sea, between December 7, 1941, and November 8, 1945. Design: The compass rose is traditionally associated with maritime navigation and the superimposed triangle with duty and service other than in the Armed Forces. The eagle symbolizes the United States and freedom.
        Pacific War Zone Medal – for merchant marine service in the Pacific War Zone, which included the North Pacific, South Pacific, and the Indian Ocean east of 80 degrees east longitude, during the period December 7, 1941, to March 2, 1946. Design: The trident, a symbol of naval prowess, rests upon a shaft of bamboo denoting the Pacific theatre of operations. The sea seascape suggests maritime activities and service.
        Mediterranean-Middle East War Zone Medal – for seafarers who served in the zone including the Mediterranean Sea, Red Sea, Arabian Sea, and Indian Ocean west of 80 degrees east longitude, between December 7, 1941, and November 8, 1945. Design: The shield and anchor symbolize a strong maritime service. The palms suggest the Mediterranean-Middle East area while denoting victory and achievement.
        Merchant Marine Defense Medal – honoring civilian seafarers who served on merchant vessels between September 8, 1939 and December 7, 1941. Design: The shield and anchor, from the United States Maritime Service Seal, are superimposed in a ship’s wheel, denoting control and maritime service. The laurel branches symbolize achievement and excellence.

        According to Maritime Administration records, over 12,400 mariners were awarded the Merchant Marine Defense Bar; 143,000 mariners were awarded the Atlantic War Zone Bar; 111,000 Pacific War Zone Bars were distributed; and, 94,000 bars for service in the Mediterranean-Middle East War Zone were presented. In addition, over 2,000 mariners received the Korean Service Bar, and 5,000 were given the Vietnam Service Bar.
        All of these recipients of the war zone bars are eligible to obtain the new corresponding medal. The immediate families of deceased mariners are also eligible.
        Some mariners who sailed in these wars never applied for the war zone ribbon bars. MARAD’s authority to process applications for the original issuance of war zone bars expired in 1954. Under the new authority of Public Law 100-324, enacted in 1988, the Maritime Administration may again accept original applications for the decorations listed above.

        Applicants must provide proper documentation of their merchant marine service in order to be considered for the medals. In general such documentation must include the mariner’s full name, “Z” or book number, and copies of voyage discharge certificates. Inquiries should be directed to the Office of Sealift Support, Maritime Administration, Room W25-322, 1200 New Jersey Avenue, SE, Washington, DC 20590, Attn: Awards.
        Please direct all questions to:
        Patricia Thomas
        Vessel Transfer Officer
        Office of Sealift Support
        202-366-2646 or 202-366-2354
        202-493-2180 (fax)
        Sealift.marad@dot.gov

  2. I recently sent copies of my Dad’s Merchant Marine ID & Z number along with the small cards for the three ribbons for the War Zones to:
    Deveeda E. Midgette
    Maritime Administration
    Mar-630, W25 -313
    1200 New Jersey Ave., S.E.
    Washington, DC 20590

    Three weeks later, the ribbons along with their medals, The Victory medal was unexpected and was in a very nice presentation case. Also there were two different MM pins, and a signed letter from President Harry Truman all of which showed up in the mail! And at NO expense to us!

  3. I am seeking information about my grandfather Jose Manuel Hernandez. He was decorated by the ar Shipping Adminsitration. Atlantic War Zone Bar. I own the book but can not find infoirmacion on. I also possess your resgistration RECEIPT CARD ALIEN with the number 0611099.

    • See the comments on Appendix D to obtain contact information regarding awards. We do not have information on the tens of thousands of men who served during the war.

  4. My father Walter William Matthews [ he was called Bud or Matty] Born 14 April 1910 served in the Merchant Marine during the second world war in the south pacific. I believe it was early in the war to the end of the Pacific.
    If their is any information about him and the ships he served on I would like to be informed of it.
    My sincere thanks
    James Matthews

    • I regret there is no way we can help you. There were so many dedicated men and some women who served in the merchant marine during the war, Thanks to them all of any rank. Keep searching. Good luck. George

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