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Warrior legends of wars past

Sep. 11, 2013 - 01:42PM   |  
Army Sgt. Alvin York retired with more than 50 military medals.
Army Sgt. Alvin York retired with more than 50 military medals. (Army)
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The troops sure don’t rack up medals like they used to.

While an elite group of war heroes of this generation has earned multiple top valor medals, none has earned more than two.

Consider that retired Army Col. David Hackworth, whose service spanned the Korean War and Vietnam War generations, earned two service crosses and 10 — yes, 10 — Silver Stars while fighting on the Cold War-era battlefields of Asia.

Robert Howard retired as an Army colonel after earning what could be called the military valor medal trifecta: a Medal of Honor, a Distinguished Service Cross and a Silver Star. In Vietnam, he was a noncommissioned officer who conducted highly classified missions.

The military has approved 973 Silver Stars since 2001, compared to more than 27,000 during Vietnam and more than 82,000 during World War II.

One of the first service members to be popularly acclaimed for racking up combat medals was World War I’s Sgt. Alvin York, who received the Medal of Honor for leading an attack on German positions that disabled 32 machine guns, killed 28 enemy troops and captured 128 more. He also received top valor medals from France and Belgium, and later in the war earned a Distinguished Service Cross. He retired with more than 50 military medals.

World War II’s Army 1st Lt. Audie Murphy received a Medal of Honor, a Distinguished Service Cross and two Silver Stars, as well as just about every other Army medal available in his day.

But fellow World War II vet Lt. Col. Matt Urban — once tagged as “the greatest soldier in American history” by former President Jimmy Carter — eventually bested Murphy’s overall count by one medal. Urban’s tally included two Silver Stars, three Bronze Stars with valor device, the Legion of Merit, six Purple Hearts and various other awards.

One of the most highly-decorated sailors of his generation was John “Sea Wolf” Bulkeley, who retired as a vice admiral after extraordinary World War II service in the Pacific. He earned not only a Medal of Honor and a Navy Cross, but also two Distinguished Service Crosses, including one for a daring rescue of Gen. Douglas MacArthur that ferried him out of the Philippines.

MacArthur is another of the most decorated service members in U.S. history. The five-star Army commander who fought in both World Wars and Korea received a Medal of Honor, three Distinguished Service Crosses and seven Silver Stars.

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