The Navy Cross




Navy Cross (1919-1928)
Description: Navy Cross (1919-1928)


Navy Cross (1928-1941)
Description: Navy Cross (1928-1941)


Navy Cross (1942-)
Description: Navy Cross (1942-)

THE 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 counterparts.
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.
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 was designed by James Earle Fraser, a distinguished sculptor, member of the nation's Fine Arts Commisson 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.
Subtle variations have marked the evolution of the Navy Cross from 1919 to the present. One constant has been the actual medal, which has been struck from the same die and is of three-part construction: the cross itself and the front and back medallions, which are struck separately and subsequently soldered together. Current forgers almost always strike their fakes in one piece, allowing the studied eye one method of detecting frauds.

 

 

The earliest issues of the Navy Cross (1919-1928) had a very narrow white stripe centered on the blue ribbon and a planchet of dull, sometimes greenish bronze (Fig. 1). Some were awarded with the planchet reversed, the sailing ship being placed on the back and the crossed anchors and "USN" on the front. A split broach with an open-pin catch was used.
Later issues (1928-1941) had the customary 1/4-inch white stripe and a somewhat darker, gunmetal bronze finish.
One legendary variation picked up the informal nickname "Black Widow" (Fig. 2) and was in use about 1941-1942, in which the medal itself and its wrap broach were over-anodized and sported a very dark, even black finish. Ironically, many of the "Black Widow" awards were posthumous.
Midway through World War II, contracts specified the original dull bronze finish seen in the years since (Fig. 3).
Presently, the Navy Cross is awarded to a person who distinguishes himself or herself by extraordinary heroism not justifying the award of the Medal of Honor. To warrant this distinctive decoration, the act or the execution of duty must be performed in the presence of great danger or at great personal risk.
The 1942 legislation synchronized the Army and Navy's "Pyramid of Honor," eliminated the dual combat/noncombat award of the Medal of Honor and Navy Cross and brought several previously Army-only decorations into the naval service.
The original positioning of the Navy Distinguished Service Medal and the heavy hand of civilian officials gave that medal some awkward early years.
Introduced in the months following the World War I Armistice, input was sought from the fleet on individuals whose wartime performance of duty merited award of the new Distinguished Service Medal.
These recommendations were reviewed by a board chaired by Rear Adm. Austin M. Knight and its recommendations submitted for approval to Secretary of the Navy Josepheus Daniels, an entirely normal flow of events.
Entirely normal, except that Daniels in large part disregarded the board's findings and was at times arbitrary in designating who would be decorated. An extreme example pointed out by senior military leadership was Daniels' insistance that the commanding officer of each ship sunk by the enemy receive the DSM, while many officers who commanded ships that sunk enemy vessels were not considered for a medal.
The Knight board was reconvened by Daniels but its subsequent recommendations fared little better, a situation that prompted a congressional investigation, a degree of bitterness in the senior ranks and the formation of the largely independent Navy Department Board of Decorations and Medals.

 

 

 

Statistical Summary of Navy Cross Awards

 Event

 

USN

 

USMC

 

Army

 

USCG

 

Foreign

 

Civilian

 

TOTAL

 World War I

 1,146

 370

 12

35

95

--

1,658

 Haiti

--

10

--

--

--

--

10

 Gillespie Expedition

3

--

--

9

 --

--

12

 Lake Denmark Explosion

4

16

--

--

--

--

20

 Florence H. 
Explosion

62

--

--

--

--

--

62

 Byrd 
Expedition

4

4

--

--

--

--

8

 NC Flights

14

 --

1

--

--

--

15

 Panay Incident

23

--

1

--

2

--

26

 Squalus Rescue

46

--

--

--

--

--

46

 Other

33

3

--

--

--

--

36

 2nd Nicaragua

13

89

--

--

--

 

--

102

 World War II

2,661

946

13

6

17

2

3,645

 Korea

39

206

1

--

--

--

246

 Vietnam

120

363

1

--

--

1

485

 USS Liberty
Incident

 1

 --

 --

 --

 --

 --

 1

 Pueblo 
Incident

 --

1

--

--

--

--

1

 Grenada

--

1

--

--

--

--

1

 Desert Storm

--

2

--

--

--

--

2

 Just Cause
(Panama)

 1

 --

 --

 --

 --

 --

 1

 TOTALS

4,170

2,012

28

50

114

3

6,375

 

Table source: Fischer, Ronald E., "The Navy Cross," Journal of the Orders and Medals Society of America, Vol. 45, No. 2, March 1994.

 

Selective Bibliography on Navy Cross:

Fischer, Ronald E. "The Navy Cross." Journal of the Orders and Medals Society of America 45, no. 2 (March 1994):

Gleim, Albert F. ed. Navy Cross Awards for the Korean War. Ft. Myer VA: Planchet Press, 1995. [contains lists of names, ranks, dates of actions and dates of awards but does not include the text of actual awards].

____. Navy Cross Awards for WW II. Ft. Myer VA: Planchet Press, 1995. [contains lists of names, ranks, dates of actions and dates of awards but does not include the text of actual awards].

Schwartz, Charles. "The First Navy Cross: Biography of a Hero." Military Images 11, no.4 (Jan.-Feb. 1990): 12-13.

Stevens, Paul Drew ed. The Navy Cross, Vietnam: Citations of Awards of the United States Navy and United States Marine Corps 1964-1973. Forrest Ranch CA: Sharp & Dunnigan, 1987. [contains the full text of citations].

Stringer, Harry R. ed. The Navy Book of Distinguished Service: An Official Compendium of the Names and Citations of the Men of the United States Navy, Marine Corps, Army and Foreign Governments Who Were Decorated By the Navy Department for Extraordinary Gallantry and Conspicuous Service Above and Beyond the Call of Duty in the World War. Washington DC: Fassett Publishing Company, 1921.[For the text of Navy Cross citations see pp.39-182.].

US Navy. Office of Public Information. Navy Cross: Officers and Enlisted Men of the United States Navy Awarded the Navy Cross, December 7, 1941 – July 1, 1945. Washington DC: The Office, 1945? [contains a list of names with ranks, birth dates and home towns, but no information on the actual awards]

 

 

24 January 2001

 

Published:Wed Jan 17 11:53:19 EST 2018