German decorations awarded to members of the United States military
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German decorations awarded to members of the United States military have held an interesting "love–hate relationship" with the United States military beginning as far back as the American Revolution when various mercenary soldiers from Europe, who had served in the military forces of the German kingdoms, joined the Colonial forces and displayed, with various degrees of standardization, German medals on American uniforms.
During the American Civil War a similar situation developed with some soldiers, on both sides of the conflict, holding prior service in European conflicts and thus having been decorated with various German military decorations. Both during the Civil War and the American Revolution, there was no effort to formulate any sort of regulations regarding the wear of foreign medals on USA (and CSA) uniforms with those soldiers who felt they were entitled to such medals simply displaying them as a matter of course.
By the time of the First World War, German decorations had faded from the military memory of the United States and, during the actual conflict where Germany and America were on opposing sides, any award of a German decoration to an American soldier would have been unheard of.
By 1938, the only authorization of a Nazi decoration occurred in the U.S. military when the Order of the German Eagle was authorized for presentation (but not general wear) to some American service members who had been stationed in Germany at various diplomatic posts. Charles Lindbergh was one of the most notable recipients of this decoration.
During World War II, Nazi decorations became awards of the enemy and therefore there was no thought of their display on American uniforms. Even so, cases were reported in POW camps of some American military members, who had been sentenced to forced labor receiving the War Merit Medal for "high production" or performing above the standards expected of an enemy prisoner. There are no records, however, of an American willingly accepting a Nazi decoration nor did the United States military ever authorize a Nazi award to be displayed on a U.S. uniform.
By the 1960s, the government of West Germany had begun presenting medals to senior U.S. military leaders stationed in Germany as part of the NATO defense plan against the Warsaw Pact. By the 1980s and the 1990s, firmer regulations had allowed by the awarding of German awards to enlisted personnel, with marksmanship and sports badges topping the list. This practice continued after German reunification and into the present day.
The Order of Merit of the Federal Republic of Germany was last awarded to a US officer in 2003 and is today rarely awarded to only very senior US officers. Most of those were to the SACEUR usually as "end-of-tour" decorations. The German Proficiency and Marksmanship Badges are far more commonly awarded, mainly to U.S. Army and Air Force personnel.