The Navy Cross is the second highest
decoration for valor in war and evolved from the Certificate
of Merit of 1847. This certificate was intended to be
conferred only on private soldiers; NCOs received commissions
for outstanding service and heroism; officers received brevet
promotions. Authority to award the
Distinguished Service Cross is held by the Commanding
General of a US Army Force serving in the rank of General and
the Chief of Staff, Army and may not be further delegated.
Successive awards are denoted by Oak Leaf Clusters.
YEARS of the "Great War" were not easy ones for the men and women in the naval
service. The Herculean task of transporting and escorting the hundreds of
thousands of troops of the American Expeditionary Force to Europe, the growing
pains of fielding new aviation and submarine elements and the savage fighting of
our sailors and Marines on battlefields across France all lay at the feet of the
naval service. Along with this came an increase in the size of the naval service
to its largest at that time, and the task of working hand-in-hand with Allied
New to this experience was the European custom of one nation decorating
heroes of another nation. The United States, with the Medal of Honor as its sole
decoration, was caught unprepared not only for this custom, but also had no
appropriate award to recognize heroism of a level less than that which would
merit the Medal of Honor and no decoration to reward the myriad acts of
meritorious non-combat service that the war would spur.
The U.S. Army shared this dilemma and with the aid of President Woodrow
Wilson and the Congress in early and mid-1918 instituted its Distinguished
Service Cross and Distinguished Service Medal (DSM) with clear guidelines for
the award of the Distinguished Service Cross for combat heroism and the DSM
award for distinguished non-combat duty in a position of great responsibility.
This pair was available in time for awarding during World War I.
Parallel awards were created a year later for the Navy and Marine Corps,
months after the armistice and amid the massive demobilization of our forces.
The Navy Cross was established by
Act of Congress (Public Law 253, 65th Congress),
approved on February 4, 1919. The Navy Cross has been
in effect since April 6, 1917.
The Navy Cross was
designed by James Earl Fraser (1876-1953),
a distinguished sculptor, member of the nation's Fine
Arts Commission and designer of the obverse of the
Victory Medal and an early version of the Navy
Distinguished Service Medal. The Navy Cross' arguable
resemblance to Great Britain's Navy Distinguished
Service Cross is noteworthy, but not elaborated upon
in any records. Fraser experimented with the image of
a World War I-era destroyer on the medal, but finally
opted for the more timeless, flowing lines of a
15th-century caraval or sailing ship.
No prouder decorations exist today than the Navy Cross and the Navy
Distinguished Service Medal, but their creation and early award were fraught
with controversy, ambiguity and confusion.
As enacted 04 Feb. 1919, the Navy Cross was the naval services third-highest
award and could be awarded for both combat heroism and for other distinguished
service. Many, for instance, were earned for extraordinary diving and salvage
feats. As originally third in precedence behind the Medal or Honor and the Navy
Distinguished Service Medal, more than one Navy Cross recipient regarded its
award as a "snub" in lieu of the Distinguished Service Medal.
The same act established the Distinguished Service Medal. Both decorations
could be awarded retroactive to 06 April 1917. It would be 23 years and a 07
Aug. 1942 action by Congress that would place the Navy Cross just beneath the
Medal of Honor, and limit its award to combat-only recognition.
The Navy Cross may be awarded to
any person who, while serving with the Navy or Marine
Corps, distinguishes himself in action by
extraordinary heroism not justifying an award of the
Medal of Honor. The action must take place under one
of three circumstances: while engaged in action
against an enemy of the United States; while engaged
in military operations involving conflict with an
opposing foreign force; or, while serving with
friendly foreign forces engaged in an armed conflict
in which the United States is not a belligerent
party. To earn a Navy Cross the act to be commended
must be performed in the presence of great danger or
at great personal risk and must be performed in such
a manner as to render the individual highly
conspicuous among others of equal grade, rate,
experience, or position of responsibility. An
accumulation of minor acts of heroism does not
justify an award of the Navy Cross.
Additional awards of the Navy
Cross are denoted by gold stars five-sixteenths of an
inch in diameter.