Denzel Follows Carter's Lead
by Wearing Unauthorized Medals

Our expert identifies the ribbons "Carter" is wearing and comments on their appropriateness.

Of course this is just a Hollywood costume, but this scene is an important part of the film's pro-Carter propaganda because it creates the false impression that Carter served honorably in the Army when, in fact, he was thrown out as "unfit for military service."

Left breast, top

Left: Army Good Conduct Medal

Army of Occupation Medal


National Defense Service Medal

Korean Service Medal

Right: United Nations Service Medal

Right breast

The Republic of Korea Presidential Unit Citation


Note: Carter served from Aug. 27, 1954 to May 29, 1956

1. The Army of Occupation Medal was awarded for "...service in Germany between 9 May 1945 and 5 May 1955 (Berlin until 2 October 1990) or Austria between 9 May 1945 and 27 July 1955." This matches his service dates if he served in Europe during his service as he states in the movie. This appears to be the only medal he could possibly have been awarded.

2. What I thought was a NATO Medal at first look, after watching the movie again, appears to be the Korean Service Medal. This medal was awarded for service in Korea between 27 June 1950 and 27 July 1954 (Korean War time frame). This doesn't match his service dates, if indeed they are correct according to prison records.
[Carter's only overseas service was in Germany.]

The bottom three medals and the Korea Unit Citation would all have been awarded to someone who actually served in the Korean peninsula during the Korean War.

So I guess he went through military training, served in Korea during the Korean War, then served in Germany, and then at Fort Campbell Kentucky (home of the 101st Airborne Division); all in the span of less than two years. Could have happened, but the dates don't match.


Good Conduct Medal. The medal is "awarded for exemplary behavior, efficiency, and fidelity in active Federal Military Service." His military record wouldn't authorize the award of this medal. [Note: Carter was discharged as being "unfit for miltary service" after four courts martial.]

National Defense Service Medal. This medal is "awarded for honorable active service between 27 June 1950 and 27 July 1954 (Korea) and between 1 January 1961 and 14 August 1974 (Vietnam)." His service falls between these dates, not during them.