To date, 36 Battle Streamers with 30 Silver Stars and 41 Bronze Stars have been approved to commemorate the wars and combat actions of the U.S. Navy during its proud history. These symbolize more than 200 campaigns and major battles and the many unit citations and commendations, which have been approved. Silver and Bronze Stars are used on streamers to denote engagements of a campaign and numerals on unit award streamers to denote total number approved. Silver Stars are equal to five Bronze Stars. The significance of the Battle Streamers on the U.S. Navy flag is as follows:
1. American Revolution (2 Silver Stars). The war at sea was critical in the nation’s struggle for independence. Warships of the new Continental Navy conducted squadron and single-ship cruises against British trade, attacked Royal Navy sea lines of communication, and challenged enemy blockade operations. The war was also marked by gunboat operations on Lake Champlain and extensive commerce attacks by American privateers. The ongoing struggle at sea helped wear down Britain’s commitment to the war, ultimately resulting in American independence in 1783.
2. Quasi-War with France (3 Bronze Stars). Friction between the neutral United States and the warring powers of Britain and Revolutionary France led to attacks on American merchant shipping by French privateers in the late 1790s. The newly built frigates of the U.S. Navy led trade protection patrols in the Atlantic and the West Indies, attacking privateer ships and bases and engaged in open combat against French warships. USS Constellation won two memorable victories against the French naval frigates L’insurgente and La Vengeance. A negotiated settlement ended the conflict in 1800.
3. Barbary Wars (4 Bronze Stars). The Barbary States, a collection of independent city-states in North Africa, had practiced state-sanctioned privateering for centuries. To avoid such attacks, European states typically paid the Barbary States tribute, as that was cheaper than defending their merchant trade in the Mediterranean. With the rapid expansion of North American trade, American merchant ships were attacked and seized in greater and greater numbers, with the ships sold and their crews condemned into slavery. The United States was forced to pay a high tribute every year. By 1801, with frigates now available, tribute was halted and war broke out between Tripoli and the United States. The U.S. Navy maintained a squadron in the Mediterranean to blockade Tripoli for the next four years. U.S. frigate Constitution participated in the siege of Tripoli in 1803–04, helping establish the proud traditions of the U.S. Navy. From 1812–1815, an American squadron countered Algerian and Moroccan attempts to reinstitute tribute collection.
4. War of 1812 (2 Silver Stars, 4 Bronze Stars). In this, the United States’ “second war for independence” against Great Britain, the U.S. Navy won stunning victories in fierce ship-to-ship actions. The most celebrated of these actions was the defeat of HMS Guerriere by U.S. frigate Constitution (“Old Ironsides”). Fleet victories by Commodore Oliver Hazard Perry on Lake Erie, and Commodore Thomas Macdonough on Lake Champlain saved the nation from an invasion from Canada. At New Orleans, Commodore Daniel Patterson’s small naval force helped Andrew Jackson secure a great triumph by repelling another serious invasion threat.
5. The Indian Wars (1835–1842). Following the massacre in 1835 of an Army detachment in Florida by Seminole Indians, the U.S. Navy joined with the Marine Corps in action against the Seminole and Creek tribes. Naval reinforcements were stationed along the Florida coast to relieve Army garrisons for inland operations. A brown water navy, the “Mosquito Fleet,” consisting of numerous small sailing vessels, barges, and canoes, carrying Sailors and Marines, made inland forays to pursue and engage the native warriors in their Everglades strongholds.
6. Operations against West Indian Pirates (1822–1830s). By the early 1820’s, pirates and illegal privateers cruising Caribbean waters had attacked nearly 3,000 merchant ships. In 1822, the U.S. Navy formed the West India Squadron to eradicate these lawless sea raiders. During the decade of the 1820’s, U.S. Navy ships routed pirate gangs ashore and afloat, in fighting that was often characterized by bloody, hand-to-hand combat. By 1830, Caribbean piracy was all but extinguished, and an invaluable service had been rendered to humanity and the shipping interests of all nations.
7. African Slave Trade Patrol (1820–1861). In the middle years of the nineteenth century, Americans spoke out against slave traffic flowing from Africa to the western hemisphere. In 1842, the U.S. Navy joined Britain’s Royal Navy to establish the African Slave Trade Patrol, which for 20 years hunted and ran down slavers who plied the Atlantic with their cargoes of human misery.
8. Mexican War (4 Bronze Stars). This was fought on both coasts of Mexico and in California. The U.S. Navy blockaded enemy ports, and in a major amphibious assault at Veracruz, landed more than 12,000 troops in one day. Successful riverine operations were conducted, and the U.S. Navy and Marine Corps played prominent roles in the conquest of California.
9. Civil War (3 Silver Stars). The U.S. Navy played a decisive role in the Civil War, conducting operations on the high seas, on rivers, and in bays and harbors. Federal naval forces imposed a tight blockade on the Confederate coastline while mounting large-scale, amphibious assaults against Southern ports, commercial works, and supply depots. Union gunboats split the Confederacy along the Mississippi, and the seizure of coastal ports such as New Orleans encircled and choked the Southern war effort. Historic ship-to-ship actions included ironclad Monitor vs CSS Virginia (ex-Merrimack) in Hampton Roads and sloop-of-war Kearsarge vs the Confederate raider Alabama off the coast of France. The U.S. Navy supported and transported Union troops throughout the conflict
10. Spanish-American War (3 Bronze Stars). Two decisive naval victories brought this war to a quick end—Commodore George Dewey at Manila Bay and Admiral William T. Sampson at Santiago, Cuba. In addition, the U.S. Navy blockaded the coast of Cuba and conducted successful amphibious assaults.
11. Philippine Insurrection Campaign (1899–1902). The U.S. Navy supported the Army’s efforts to quell the insurrection, which erupted in the Philippines following the Spanish-American War. Naval ships provided gunfire and the mobility to move troops rapidly to any threatened area. Navy landing parties were used to stop rioting and looting.
12. China Relief Expedition (1900–1901). American citizens and property in China were endangered by a large scale anti-foreigner revolt called the Boxer rebellion. A force of Marines and Sailors from cruiser Newark landed at Taku to protect U.S. lives and property, and on 31 May, 1900, proceeded toward Peking with an international force to rescue the beleaguered foreign legations in the Chinese capital. By August of the same year, the uprising was defeated.
13. Latin American Campaigns (1 Silver Star). To assist in the establishment of political and economic stability in Latin America, the U.S. Navy and Marine Corps participated in missions to Nicaragua, Haiti, the Dominican Republic, and other areas during the first two decades of the 20th century.
14. World War I Victory (1 Silver Star). The U.S. Navy played a key role in the defeat of the German submarine campaign against Allied shipping in the Atlantic, without which victory would have been impossible. To meet the German U-boat threat, the Navy deployed destroyers to Europe, carried out antisubmarine and reconnaissance patrols by naval aircraft, and laid extensive ocean minefields to deter enemy submarines. Equally important, the Naval Overseas Transportation Service safely convoyed two million American troops and millions of tons of supplies to Europe while U.S. battleships joined with the British to ensure containment of the German High Seas Fleet. Sailors and Marines also conducted military operations in France, including operating large battleship guns mounted on railway cars to bombard enemy concentrations in 1918.
15. Second Nicaraguan Campaign (1926–1933). U.S. Navy ships carried some 2,000 Marines to Nicaragua at the request of that government when civil war erupted in 1927. A truce soon followed, and by agreement, U.S. Sailors and Marines went ashore to keep order, supervise elections, and aid in training a local national guard.
16. Yangtze Service (1926–1927, 1930–1932). The Yangtze River Patrol was reestablished in 1926 to assure a U. S. Navy presence for the protection of American citizens, missionaries, and trade interests in an unstable and turbulent China.
17. China Service (1936–1939 and post-1945). In 1936, Imperial Japan initiated open hostilities in northern China, which quickly spread to Shanghai and threatened the safety of American citizens in the area. U.S. naval forces performed many tasks in support of our national interests, including the protection and evacuation of American citizens from Shanghai and Nanking. U.S. vessels were subjected to shore attacks and aerial bombing in this period of undeclared war, including the patrol vessel Panay sunk by Japanese bombs in the Yangtze above Nanking. At the conclusion of World War II, the U.S. Navy returned to China to control critical waterways and ports, assure occupation troops were landed and that Japanese military forces were demilitarized and repatriated. U.S. Navy and Marine forces engaged in minor actions against Communist forces during the Chinese Civil War that ended in 1949.
18. American Defense Service (1939–1941). Awarded for active service during the tense period between the outbreak of war in Europe in 1939 and 7 December 1941. This included neutrality patrol operations in the Atlantic and base reinforcement operations in the Pacific.
19. World War II (American Theater) (1 Bronze Star). Following the surrender of France in June 1940, German submarines based out of occupied French ports expanded their attacks in the Atlantic and caused heavy losses to Allied merchant ships. With the German declaration of war on the U.S. after the Pearl Harbor attacks, U-boats began cruising off the U.S. East Coast, sinking coastal shipping and threatening to cut sea lines of communications with Britain. Increased numbers of convoy escorts, armed guard crews, and vigilant surface and air antisubmarine patrols blunted these attacks and, in a long campaign of attrition, ultimately neutralized the U-boats. The combination of much reduced merchant ship losses, and the vastly increased numbers built in American shipyards, allowed the transport of millions of service members overseas to engage the Axis powers in Europe.
20. World War II (Pacific Theater) (8 Silver Stars, 3 Bronze Stars). After the attack on Pearl Harbor on 7 December 1941, Imperial Japanese land and sea forces swept aside Allied forces in Southeast Asia, the Dutch East Indies, and in the Southwest Pacific. Some Allied naval forces offered heroic resistance, but could not prevent the eventual loss of Singapore, the Philippines, or the seizure of many island groups in the central Pacific. In May–June 1942, the U.S. Navy turned back invasions of Port Moresby and Midway, the latter a stunning victory that sank four Japanese aircraft carriers and virtually ended the ability of the Japanese navy to launch new offensive campaigns. Very soon thereafter, the Navy and Marines began the Allied counter-offensive in the Solomon Islands. For the balance of the war, bitterly fought campaigns highlighted by vast amphibious operations, supported by powerful carrier task forces pushed back the Japanese. American invasion forces, backed by increasing numbers of ships and planes, seized the Pacific Island chains and advanced to the northern Marianas, Iwo Jima, the Philippines, and Okinawa. At the same time, submarines and mines took a devastating toll of Japanese merchant ships, thus cutting off supply of fuel, food, and critical materials. At last, encircled, extensively bombed and threated with invasion, Japanese authorities surrendered on board USS Missouri on 2 September 1945. (Note: Two streamers required to accommodate all of stars—first streamer with six Silver Stars and the second streamer with 2 Silver and 3 Bronze Stars. The maximum number of stars per streamer is 6.)
21. World War II (European-African-Middle Eastern Theater) (1 Silver Star, 4 Bronze Stars). As Allied anti-submarine forces struggled to defend sea lines of communication between North America and Britain, Allied naval forces in Europe enabled the first counter-offensives against the Axis. In the Arctic and the Middle East, convoys delivered critically needed supplies to keep the Soviet Union fighting on the eastern front. In North Africa, the first major invasion liberated the Vichy colonies of Morocco and Algeria, and when joined by British troops from Egypt, drove the Axis from Tunisia and Libya, opening the way for amphibious invasions of Sicily and Italy in 1943. The following year the massive invasion of Normandy in June 1944 liberated France, led to the crossing of the Rhine, and the defeat of Germany in 1945.
22. World War II Victory. Awarded to all members of the Armed Forces of the United States who served during World War II at any time between 7 December 1941 and 31 December 1946.
23. National Defense Service. Awarded to all members of the Armed Forces of the United States for honorable active service as a member of the Armed Forces for any of the following periods, all dates inclusive: 27 June 1950–28 July 1954; 1 January 1961–14 August 1974; 2 August 1990–30 November 1995; and 12 September 2001 to a date to be determined.
24. Korean Service (2 Silver Stars). The United States, within the framework of the United Nations resolution, responded to the invasion of South Korea in June 1950 by North Korean Communist forces. The U.S. Navy tightly blockaded the coast, carrier aircraft struck strategic targets and provided close support while battleships, cruisers, and destroyers rendered regular and precise gunfire support. Allied forces conducted amphibious operations and coastal raids. The Military Sea Transportation Service delivered troops and supplies. These efforts helped prevent the loss of South Korea and drove enemy forces back to the Yalu River. Following Communist Chinese intervention, the war ground down to a stalemate on the 38th Parallel with ceasefire implementation complete on 27 July 1954.
25. Armed Forces Expeditionary (5 Silver Stars, 1 Bronze Star). Numerous international crises since World War II demanded relatively constant naval presence to deter aggression in support of national policy. The U.S. Navy responded to during military operations, to directly support the United Nations and to support friendly nations with presence, indirect or direct support in combat operations. The award covers all such crises that do not otherwise have a campaign medal, which range from Lebanon in 1958, the Formosa Strait crisis that same year, the Cuban missile crisis in 1962, various western hemisphere operations—including Panama and Haiti—and operations in Somalia, the Balkans, and Iraq in the 1990s.
26. Vietnam Service (3 Silver Stars, 2 Bronze Stars). To prevent the collapse of the Republic of Vietnam in the face of Communist Viet Cong and North Vietnamese aggression, the United States extended military assistance to South Vietnam beginning in 1950, with Navy participation expanding after the Gulf of Tonkin incident in 1964. The United States Navy’s multi-faceted role in the conflict included shore bombardment, carrier air strikes, tactical gunfire support, amphibious landings, coastal surveillance, extensive riverine (“brown water navy”) operations, logistic support, and training the South Vietnamese navy.
27. Southwest Asia Service (3 Bronze Stars). This medal was authorized on 12 March 1991 for participation in or support of military operations in Kuwait, Iraq, and the surrounding areas between 2 August 1990–30 November 1995, including Operations Desert Shield and Desert Storm.
28. Kosovo Campaign (2 Bronze Stars). The Kosovo Campaign Medal was established by Executive Order 13154 signed by President William J. Clinton on 3 May 2000. The strategic goal in Kosovo was to maintain regional stability in the Balkans generally and prevent escalating violence in Kosovo in particular.
29. Global War on Terrorism Expeditionary (1 Silver Star, 1 Bronze Star). The Global War on Terrorism Expeditionary Medal was established by Executive Order 13289 on 12 March 2003. The Global War on Terrorism Expeditionary Medal is awarded to service members who serve in military expeditions to combat terrorism on or after 11 September 2001 in designated Area of Eligibilities (AOE), including more than 40 countries and various bodies of water in the European Command, Central Command, and Pacific Command area of responsibilities.
30. Global War on Terrorism Service Medal. The Global War on Terrorism Service Medal was established by Executive Order 13289 on 12 March 2003 to recognize any service member who supported anti-terrorism operations, regardless of their geographic location, on or after 11 September 2001.
31. Afghanistan Campaign (1 Silver Star). Established by Executive Order 13363 on 29 November 2004. Recognizes service members who made specific sacrifices and significant contributions in Operation Enduring Freedom area of operation.
32. Iraq Campaign (1 Silver Star, 2 Bronze Stars). Established by Executive Order 13363 on 29 November 2004. Recognizes service members who made specific sacrifices and significant contributions in the Operation Iraqi Freedom area of operation.
33. Presidential Unit Citation. Established by Executive Order 9050 on 6 February 1942. This is the nation’s highest unit award. It is issued in the name of the President of the United States as public evidence of deserved honor and distinction to any unit of the U.S. Navy for outstanding performance in action. The unit so honored has clearly rendered itself conspicuous by action of a character comparable to that which would merit the award of the Navy Cross to an individual.
34. Navy Unit Commendation. Established by order of the Secretary of the Navy on 18 December 1944. It is awarded to any unit of the U.S. Navy, which has distinguished itself by outstanding heroism in action against the enemy, but not sufficient to justify award of the Presidential Unit Citation. A unit receiving this award has performed service of a character which would merit the award of a Silver Star Medal to an individual.
35. Joint Meritorious Unit. Awarded in the name of the Secretary of Defense to recognize joint units and activities for meritorious achievement or service superior to that which is normally expected.
36. Meritorious Unit Commendation. Established by order of the Secretary of the Navy on 17 July 1967. It is awarded to any unit of the U.S. Navy which has distinguished itself under combat or non-combat conditions, by either valorous or meritorious achievement. A unit receiving this award has performed service or character comparable to that which would merit the award of a Bronze Star Medal, or Meritorious Service Medal for achievement of like caliber in a non-combat situation to an individual.