The commanding general of a U.S. infantry division is authorized to award any decoration up to and including the Silver Star, which he occasionally did in the afterglow of a major battle. We would follow up with the appropriate orders and citation to memorialize the award. In most cases, recommendations for decorations came from field commanders, and I convened a board of officers about once each week to review them on behalf of the division commander. I was given a roster of officers who had been assigned to the Awards & Decorations Review Board, and called three to sit on each week's panel. I generally selected one senior officer, lieutenant colonel or colonel, to chair the board, and two lower grade officers, captain or major, to fill it out.
The Awards & Decorations board rarely disappointed me with their decisions. However, there was one that drove me to discard their votes and have them recast by another panel. A medic was cited by his unit commander for having rushed headlong to save a fallen comrade despite a hail of gunfire directed on him from a Viet Cong ambush. The victim was the point man of an American patrol who had sprung the ambush before his comrades entered the killing zone. As he fell, all of the Americans went to ground except for the medic. He rushed forward and covered the fallen man with his own body until the enemy was driven back, and then provided life-saving aid. He was recommended by the unit commander for an award of the Silver Star. The Awards & Decorations board were inclined to grant the award until I read the closing line of the recommendation; the medic was a conscientious objector. Personally, I found it noble that he served in combat even though his status could have shielded him from being drafted into the Armed Services. The panel of officers that day voted unanimously to reduce his award to a Bronze Star with “V” device signifying valor. I discarded their recommendation and the medic was ultimately awarded the Silver Star that he, in my opinion, deserved.
My most humbling duty was investigating and memorializing recommendations for the Medal of Honor. I was honored to work on four. I will probably create separate postings for each at some future date. However, I cannot leave this posting without providing some insight into the care taken by the Armed Services to insure the validity of an award of its highest honor.