How do you begin to summarize Brigadier General Charles Elwood Yeager’s illustrious military career? His ribbon bar offers a timeline.
Yeager enlisted straight out of high school in 1941, qualifying him for the American Defense Service Medal (fourth row, predominantly yellow), which was awarded only for active service between September 1939 and Pearl Harbor on December 7, 1941. Other ribbons trace Yeager’s service through World War II, culminating in the rainbow-accented Victory Medal (fifth row, right), and then Vietnam, where he flew 127 missions and earned the National Defense Service Medal (bottom row, center).
The ribbons also recall heroic actions. The Silver Star (top row, right) was awarded after downing five enemy aircraft in a single mission and becoming an “ace in a day.” Yeager also scored one of the first victories over a German Messerschmitt Me 262 jet fighter, earning him the Distinguished Flying Cross (second row, right). He received that award twice more, denoted by the two oak leaf clusters, including for breaking the sound barrier in the Bell X-1.
Yeager’s ribbon bar may be read as an impressive resume, but its real power as an artifact in the National Air and Space Museum’s collection serves as a reminder that Yeager didn’t just magically appear inside that bright orange Bell X-1 on the morning of October 14, 1947. Sure, the ribbon bar is a collection of fabric and metal objects, but it’s also a collection of stories that helps paint a fuller picture of an iconic pilot.
Reilly Tifft is an assistant editor at Air & Space Quarterly.
This article is from the Fall issue of Air & Space Quarterly, the National Air and Space Museum's signature magazine that explores topics in aviation and space, from the earliest moments of flight to today. Explore the full issue.
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