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Mariner Medals

As part of our Outreach activities, the Maritime Administration awards medals and war zone ribbon bars to civilian mariners who support the nation’s armed forces in conflict, as well as during peacetime when contributions are significant. Over 350,000 medals and war zone ribbons have been distributed to eligible merchant mariners for approved conflicts.

  • Original Awards include a variety of World War II-era conflicts and geographies.
  • In 1992, the U.S. Department of Transportation announced several new award options for civilian merchant seamen in recognition of service in World War II, Korea, Vietnam, Operations Enduring Freedom and Iraqi Freedom, and Operations Restore Hope and United Shield and related operations in Somalia from December 5, 1992 to March 31, 1995.
  • The Department of Defense also offers several award options for military- or foreign service-related actions and service. 

Original Awards

Merchant Marine Distinguished Service Medal. Awarded to any seaman in the U.S. Merchant Marine who, on or after September 3, 1939, distinguished him or herself during the war by outstanding conduct or service in the line of duty. Not more than one medal shall be issued to any one seaman. For each subsequent instance sufficient to justify the award, additional insignia will be awarded and worn with the medal.

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

Gallant Ship Citation Ribbon. Awarded to officers and seamen who served on a ship which, at the time of service, was cited for gallantry by the Maritime Administration. The bronze plaque is awarded to the ship. 

Mariner’s Medal. Awarded to any seaman who, while serving in a ship during the war period, is wounded, suffers physical injury, or suffers through dangerous exposure as a result of an act of a United States enemy. In the event any such seaman dies from the wounds or injuries before the award can be given, the medal may be presented to the person named in the War Risk Policy as his or her beneficiary.

Atlantic War Zone Medal. Awarded for merchant marine service in the Atlantic War Zone, including the North Atlantic, South Atlantic, Gulf of Mexico, Caribbean, Barents Sea and Greenland Sea, between December 7, 1941, and November 8, 1945.

Pacific War Zone Medal. Awarded 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, between December 7, 1941, and March 2, 1946.

Mediterranean-Middle East War Zone Medal. Awarded to 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.

Merchant Marine Defense Medal. Awarded for service in the U.S. Merchant Marine prior to Pearl Harbor. It may be worn by all merchant seamen who served as members of the crews of U.S. merchant ships from September 8, 1939 and December 7, 1941.

New Award Options

Korean Service Medal. Awarded for service in the American merchant marine during the Korean Conflict in waters adjacent to Korea between June 30, 1950 and September 30, 1953. 

Vietnam Service Medal. Awarded for maritime service between July 4, 1965 and August 15, 1973, in waters adjacent to Vietnam.

Merchant Marine Expeditionary Medal (MMEM). Awarded to American merchant seamen who serve on U.S.-flag ships in support of operations involving American and Allied military forces. It was first authorized for service in Operations Desert Shield and Desert Storm. This medal is also awarded to mariners who served in Operations Enduring Freedom and Iraqi Freedom and most recently in 2016 for Operations Restore Hope and United Shield and related operations in Somalia. Instructions on applying for this medal can be found here

Merchant Marine Medal for Outstanding Achievement. Awarded to merchant mariners who have participated in an act or operation of humanitarian nature on behalf of an individual or groups of individuals. This medal can also be awarded to those in the maritime industry who have dedicated years of service or achievement and/or given extraordinary contributions to the maritime industry. This medal requires the Maritime Administrator’s approval.

Department of Defense and Foreign Government Recognition

Prisoner of War Medal. Awarded to World War II merchant marine veterans held prisoners of war during the period of December 7, 1941 to August 15, 1945. The medal recognizes the special service prisoners of war gave to their country and the suffering and anguish they endured while incarcerated.

Soviet Commemorative Medal. Awarded to merchant marine veterans who participated in convoys to Murmansk during World War II.

Philippine Defense Ribbon. Awarded to members of crews of ships who served in Philippine waters for not less than 30 days between December 8, 1941 and June 15, 1942.

Philippine Liberation Ribbon. Awarded to members of crews of ships who served in Philippine waters for not less than 30 days from October 17, 1944, to September 3, 1945.

General Medal Eligibility

Some mariners who sailed in World War II conflicts earned a war zone bar but never applied. MARAD is authorized under Public Law 100-324 (1988) to accept original applications for any war zone bar listed above, in which case a corresponding medal will represent the original war zone bar. The reverse of all new medals is a shield adapted from the Seal of the U.S. Maritime Service. Immediate families of deceased mariners are also eligible to apply for and recieve a medal to hold in honor of their maritime awardee. Applicants must provide proper documentation of the candidate's merchant marine service for consideration, and include his or her full name, “Z” or book number, and copies of voyage discharge certificates. Inquiries should be directed to the Office of Public Affairs.

Updated: Wednesday, June 19, 2019