(This is a draft page still under preparation - please let me know any corrections or additional information/examples.)

This study lists and comments on the orders, decorations, and medals of Socialist Republic of Vietnam, National Liberation Front, and the Democratic Republic of Vietnam.

Medals are symbols of man's courage, distinction, and vanity. At present, few, except military and naval officers in the occasional formal ceremony, wear their medals. Upon receipt, medals are usually stowed away in a drawer or presented in a frame on the wall. At most a few dollars of metal, enamel, and ribbon, these may be valued far more than a large gift of money. Medals are still awarded and frequently worn with pride.

Medals are also symbols of history, and reflect the wars, changes of regime, and the characters of states. They perhaps do not deserve major scholarship, but they do deserve some study, and perhaps particularly so in Vietnam.

These studies on the orders and medals of the Socialist Republic of Vietnam were originally published by John Sylvester Jr. during 1987-1994.

This has been continued by Ed Emering with a website and in the series of books "Orders, Decorations and Badges of the Socialist republic of Vietnam, and the National Front for the Liberation of South Vietnam", "Encyclopedia of the Orders, Decorations, Medals and Badges of the Socialist Republic of Vietnam", "Orders and Decorations of the Socialist Republic of Vietnam: An Update", and other articles. The website is at http://themedalhound.com/vietnam/ and at http://themedalhound.com/evm/ and the books are available at http://www.themedalhound.com/books/titles.html.

We continue to update and expand these studies on this website with additional information as available.

We owe special thanks and gratitude to Col. Paul Rullier, Mr. Peter Groch, Mr. Peter Aitken, Mr. Didier Bauland, Lt. Frank C. Brown, Mrs. Helen Moser, Mr. David White, Mr. Darrell Lulling, Mr. J. Hass, Mr. Mario Flores, Mr. William W. Thomas Jr., Mr. Gary Jones, Mr. Sum Tran, and Mr. Ian Macdonald. Special recognition to Mr. George Petersen who supplied many of the medals and certificates pictured herein.

In this study there are certainly errors and omissions. We would be grateful for the corrections, additions, and observations of others interested in the subject. Please contact me at rdavemail-medals@yahoo.com.

    David Fay

Site updates listed here.

Poster of 2005 Redesign of the SRV Medals

The Medals:

The Vietnamese communist movement began as a revolutionary political and partisan movement with the informal simplicity that implies. But it was also influenced by the French and Soviet experience. That led to the adoption of a system of decorations and medals. No systematic official description of the [early] awards is available. They remain puzzling in many aspects. From photographs of communist heroes, occasional references in decrees and the Hanoi media, captured documents, interrogations of prisoners during the war, and examinations of the medals themselves, some information is available and tentative cataloguing can be hazarded. Col. Rullier has noted that, according to information from prisoners and from examples found on the battlefield, medals were first awarded to communist combatants and sympathizers at the end of 1947.

The medals can be divided in many ways, for instance, between those established in the early period on a local or French model, and those thereafter on a Sino-Soviet model; between those created during the war against France, those created after 1955 during the war against the South and the Americans, and those created in the aftermath of victory; and between those officially of the DRV and those of the purportedly independent southern movement. Also, they may be divided by appearance between medals with a framed Soviet "hero" style suspension; awards with the Russian pentagonal ribbon arrangement; medals suspended from a metal broach by chain links; and medals in the form of plain badges. Although the division line is unclear there also are many commemorative badges and pins that probably do not have the essential character of medals or awards of honor. Recently many examples have become available of what appear to be local government and organization commemorative and merit awards, which questionably should be included in this study.

Finally, there is the division between awards called Huân-Chương and those called Huy-Chương, which might be translated respectively as "order" and "decoration," although "medal" might appropriately be used for both. Those worn with a metal broach on the right side of the chest are apparently termed Danh-Hiêu, which can roughly be translated as "appellation," and symbolize the award of a title (as noted below).

The bestowal of decorations became an important tool of morale for the communist forces. As in other countries, deserving individuals could be presented awards for valor, merit, or simply specific periods of service without disciplinary action. Titles also might accompany an award, for instance, "Brave Killer of Americans." Under the regulations a main force soldier could gain the Second-Class title and medal of this for having killed 10 Americans, while a guerilla could gain it for killing six. Along with the title, medal, and certificate, they might receive a promotion or small material gift such as a towel.

The decorations were often presented as collective or unit awards. A unit receiving the above southern medal would be presented the accompanying title "Valiant Unit in the Annihilation of Americans." A company sized unit, for instance, would be eligible for this for destroying supposedly two US platoons in a single battle. Examples of other unit awards mentioned by Hanoi radio include the Ho Chi Minh Order 3rd Class given to the Engineer Corps Command on the 25th anniversary of its founding, March 25,1980; and the Labor Medal First Class given to the cadre of Nghia Binh province, March 30, 1978, for progress in combating illiteracy. Units, as well as individuals, could be promoted after further successes to a higher-class award. Unit awards might be indicated by the presentation of a red banner with an appropriate inscription such as "Resolved to Win" (Quyêt Thang). Subsequent awards were often shown by pinning medals to the unit flag; the flags of some combat units are photographed heavily incrusted with medals.

Senior awards would be given by the President, while other military awards were bestowed by authority of the Ministry of National Defense. There is in Hanoi a Decorations Institute (Viên Huân-Chu6ng) responsible to the Council of Ministers.

Soldiers in uniform would wear the pentagonal ribboned awards in rows on the left breast, with the "hero" awards above. Other awards -- such as those of the southern movement made with metal suspensions, and the badges – would generally be worn on the right breast. One hero of the PLAF, Trinh To Tam, is shown with about 50 such awards covering his right breast, plus six ribboned medals on his left.

Civilians also were well rewarded with medals such as the Order of Labor. Following standard communist practice, friendly foreigners were liberally given Vietnamese awards; for instance, Brezhnev and Kosygin received the Gold Star on June 20, 1980.

The medals themselves, of normal communist symbolism, range from the crudely made, through rather well made. Some of the earlier medals may have been manufactured in China. Some [later]examples appear to have been manufactured by the state mints of the USSR or East European countries. The pendants are usually cast of aluminum, other light composition metal, or brass; enameled (or sometimes painted); and unifaced. The ribbon is usually of a coarse weave. Red and yellow/gold are the predominant colors, with light blue added for the awards of the southern movement. Several of the medals that are now awarded with pentagonal ribbons were apparently, judging from old photos, originally hung from short lengths of straight ribbon. A couple of the Viet Cong medals have apparently been copied in the US and sold commercially. (The examples seen have an American style catch for the pin, while the original is bent over wire.) There is considerable variety in how the medals are suspended, even for some which appear the same award, for instance, with either a pentagonal ribbon or a metal broach. The significance of the difference is not known. Perhaps it just reflects native casualness.

Medal ribbon bars are sometimes issued with the medals when awarded. Photos indicate that officers sometimes wear the ribbon bars, but apparently only for formal occasions. During a visit to Hanoi in 1988 no uniformed servicemen were seen actually wearing the ribbon bars.

The award documents were often colorful with flags, ornamented borders, or pictures of the medal. Lt. F. C. Brown from his research has noted that the paper varied widely from heavy white stock to whatever was available locally. Many were of postcard size and lithographed. Entries on the documents were often in handwriting and sometimes typewritten. Following standard Vietnamese practice, the seals were round and red. The documents' reverse might carry space for entries of additional awards of the medal in its various classes.

The flag is red with a single gold star. The national arms were of standard communist heraldry, red with a yellow star and half of a gear wheel below, with sheaves of rice on either side.

    John Sylvester Jr.
    January 1, 1994
  The Orders and Medals of the Communist Governments of Indochina, Revision II