From 1845 through 1918, enlisted men who were commissioned for outstanding leadership on the field of battle were referred to as Brevet Officers. The Marine Corps recognized the value of combat leaders who were commissioned in this manner and created a Brevet Medal which was second only to the Medal of Honor. In the wars following 1918, enlisted men and warrant officers, commissioned for the same reason, were referred to as battlefield commissioned.
- World War I From 1917 to 1918 approximately 6,000 non-commissioned officers were awarded battlefield commissions.
- World War II From 1941-1945 approximately 25,500 men were awarded battlefield commissions worldwide. The United States Marine Corps also awarded battlefield commissions during the same period but no records were kept of the total. At the conclusion of WWII a board of officers reporting to the Commanding General of the European Theater stated “The one sure method of determining whether any individual has qualities which make him a successful leader in combat is to observe that man in combat.” Battlefield commissions were approved by the War Department.
- Korean War From 1950-1953 a system parallel to that of World War II was adopted. Unfortunately, the Department of Defense cannot provide figures on the number promoted. The Marine Corps did not award battlefield commissions during the Korean War.
- Vietnam War From 1963-1973 the Marine Corps Commandant appointed a permanent Board with the mission of selecting those enlisted men of the Marine Corps whose performance under fire while serving in Vietnam merited a commission. A list of 62 enlisted men who were commissioned includes one man who was killed before he could accept his commission.
The Department of Defense, in an official communication, has stated that there were no battlefield commissions awarded by the Army during the Vietnam conflict. In September, 1985, a letter was written to General William Westmoreland who commanded all troops in Vietnam requesting the General’s comments on the subject. General Westmoreland replied: “We did commission several NCO’s on the battlefield in Vietnam.” He also recommended that we contact General John K. Singlaub who had commanded a Joint Unconventional Task Force in Vietnam.
In October, 1985, General Singlaub wrote a lengthy letter and in it gave several examples of NCO’s who had received battlefield commissions in Vietnam. In his closing paragraph, he stated, “It was my impression at the time and remains so today that young NCO’s who performed particularly well were being promoted to officers during the conflict in Vietnam during the late 1960’s.”
Despite the position taken by the Department of Defense on the matter and in view of the statements by General Westmoreland and General Singlaub, it was decided to accept for membership in the National Order of Battlefield Commissions those Warrant Officers and NCO’s who can document their battlefield commissions in Vietnam.
Two Air Force NCOs who were prisoners of war demonstrated such outstanding leadership while in captivity that the senior officer at their compound appointed them second lieutenants. After their release, the Air Force publicly endorsed the appointments.