Navy Cross

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Navy Cross
Awarded by United States Department of the Navy
Type Medal (decoration)
Awarded for Distinguishes himself or herself in action by extraordinary heroism in combat not justifying the Medal of Honor.
Status Currently awarded
First awarded 1937
Total awarded c. 6,900[1]
Next (higher) Medal of Honor
Equivalent Army: Distinguished Service Cross
Marine Corps: Navy Cross
Air Force: Air Force Cross
Coast Guard: Coast Guard Cross
Next (lower) Distinguished Service Medals: Defense, Homeland Security, Army, Navy (Navy-Marine), Air Force, Coast Guard
Navy Cross ribbon.svg
Navy Cross Ribbon

The United States Navy Cross is the second-highest military decoration for valor the nation awards, second only to the Medal of Honor. The Navy Cross is primarily awarded to a member of the United States Navy, U.S. Marine Corps, or U.S. Coast Guard (when operating under the Department of the Navy) for extraordinary heroism in combat.[2] It is equivalent to the Army's Distinguished Service Cross, the Air Force's Air Force Cross and the Coast Guard's Coast Guard Cross.

The Navy Cross is bestowed by the Secretary of the Navy and may also be awarded to members of the other armed services, and to foreign military personnel while serving with the U.S. naval services. The Navy Cross was established by Act of Congress (Public Law 65-253) and approved on February 4, 1919.


The Navy Cross was instituted in part due to the entrance of the United States into World War I. Many European nations had the custom of decorating heroes from other nations, but the Medal of Honor was the sole American award for valor at the time.[3] The Army instituted the Distinguished Service Cross and Distinguished Service Medal in 1918, while the Navy followed suit in 1919, retroactive to 6 April 1917. Originally, the Navy Cross was lower in precedence than the Navy Distinguished Service Medal, because it was awarded for both combat heroism and for "other distinguished service."[3] Congress revised this on 7 August 1942, making the Navy Cross a combat-only award and second only to the Medal of Honor. Since its creation, it has been awarded more than 6,300 times.[3] It was designed by James Earle Fraser.[3]

The first actual recipient of the Navy Cross is unknown because initial awards were made from a lengthy list published after World War I.


File:"A gun crew of six Negroes who were given the Navy Cross for standing by their gun when their ship was damaged by enemy - NARA - 520688.tif
Crew members: Jonell Copeland, AtM2/c; Que Gant, StM; Harold Clark, Jr., StM; James Eddie Dockery, StM; Alonzo Alexander Swann, StM; and Eli Benjamin, StM were given the Navy Cross for standing by their gun when their ship was damaged by enemy attack in the Philippine area, ca. 1945

The Navy Cross may be awarded to any member of the U.S. Armed Forces while serving with the Navy, Marine Corps, or Coast Guard (in time of war only) who distinguishes himself or herself in action by extraordinary heroism not justifying an award of the Medal of Honor. The action must take place under one of three circumstances:

  1. In combat action while engaged against an enemy of the United States; or,
  2. In combat action while engaged in military operations involving conflict with an opposing foreign force; or,
  3. In combat action while serving with friendly foreign forces, who are engaged in armed conflict in which the United States is not a belligerent party.

The act(s) 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's action(s) 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. As originally authorized, the Navy Cross could be awarded for distinguished non-combat acts, but legislation of 7 August 1942 limited the award to acts of combat heroism.


Originally the Navy Cross was the Navy's third-highest decoration, after the Medal of Honor and the Navy Distinguished Service Medal. On 7 August 1942, Congress revised the precedence, making the Navy Cross senior to the Distinguished Service Medal. Since that time the Navy Cross has been worn after the Medal of Honor and before all other decorations.

Additional awards of the Navy Cross are denoted by gold or silver device, 5/16 inch stars affixed to the suspension and service ribbon of the medal. A gold star would be issued for each of the second through fifth awards, to be replaced by a silver star which would indicate a sixth award. To date no one has received more than five awards.

Description and symbolism

Reverse of the Navy Cross

The award has been found similar in appearance to the British Distinguished Service Cross.[3] The earliest awards (1919–1928) featured a more narrow strip of white, while the so-called "Black Widow" medals awarded from 1941–1942 were notable for the dark color due to over-anodized finish.


The Navy Cross is a modified cross pattée one and a half inches wide. The ends of its arms are rounded whereas a conventional cross patée has arms that are straight on the end. There are four laurel leaves with berries in each of the re-entrant arms of the cross. In the center of the cross a sailing vessel is depicted on waves, sailing to the viewer's left. The vessel is a symbolic caravel of the type used between 1480 and 1500. Fraser selected the caravel because it was a symbol often used by the Naval Academy and because it represented both naval service and the tradition of the sea. The laurel leaves with berries refer to achievement.


In the center of a bronze cross pattée, one and a half inches wide, are crossed anchors from the pre-1850 period, with cables attached. The letters USN are evident amid the anchors.


The service ribbon is navy blue with a center stripe of white identical to the suspension ribbon of the medal. The blue alludes to naval service; the white represents the purity of selflessness.

Notable recipients

United States Navy

United States Marine Corps

United States Army

United States Coast Guard

Non-citizen recipients

Letter from Secretary of the Navy Josephus Daniels confirming that the Navy Cross was conferred on Ernesto Burzagli in 1919. Captain Burzagli was an officer in the Royal Italian Navy.

The Secretary of the Navy has only occasional opportunities to confirm that the Navy Cross has been awarded to a non-American recipient. Slightly more than 100 such honors have been extended to men who were not citizens of the United States.

See also


  1. Recipients of the Navy Cross
  2. SECNAVYINST 2006, 1650.1H, P. 2--22&23
  3. 3.0 3.1 3.2 3.3 3.4 "The Navy Cross". Naval Historical Center. January 24, 2001. Retrieved August 12, 2009.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  4. "Chief Nurse Lenah H. Sutcliffe Higbee, U.S. Navy".<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  5. "Benjamin Vaughan McCandlish". Military Times. Gannett Government Media. 2011. Archived from the original on May 18, 2011. Retrieved May 18, 2011.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  6. "Valor awards for Donald L. McFaul | Military Times Hall of Valor". 2010-07-04. Retrieved 2012-10-31.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  7. "Admiral M'Namee Dead in Newport: Former Head of Mackay Radio, Adviser at 1919 Paris Peace Parley, in Navy 42 Years". The New York Times. New York City. The New York Times Company. 31 December 1952. p. 15. Retrieved 12 August 2013. Unknown parameter |deadurl= ignored (help)<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  8. University of New Mexico NROTC Sun Line Vol.IV No.1 November 1965
  9. TogetherWeServed - VADM Benedict Semmes
  10. "Valor awards for Robert J. Thomas | Military Times Hall of Valor". 2010-07-04. Retrieved 2012-10-31.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  12. United States Coast Guard: Rear Admiral Frederick C. Billard
  13. 13.0 13.1 Larzelere, pp 178–179
  14. United States Coast Guard: Commander Elmer Fowler Stone biography
  15. Dictionary of New Zealand Biography: Bridson bio notes
  16. 16.0 16.1 Dear, pp 46–47
  17. Australian Dictionary of Biography: Farncomb bio notes
  18. Heroes of the Soviet Union (in Russian language, same data in English)
  19. Hallett, Frederick H. "The Loss of Surcouf: Solving an Old Mystery". The Submarine Review. Annandale, Virginia: The Naval Submarine League (Winter 2012): 72.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  20. Royal New Zealand Navy: Phipps bio notes
  21. Snelling, Stephen. (2002). The Naval VCs, p. 142.
  22. "M. V. G. Greshilove (sic)". Military Times. Retrieved 2014-06-08.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>


  • "Navy Cross". Service Medals and Campaign Credits of the United States. United States Navy. Retrieved July 10, 2007.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  • Dear, Murray (April 2015). "A Weekend's Leave in Auckland". Naval History. Annapolis, Maryland: U.S. Naval Institute. 29 (2): 46–47. |access-date= requires |url= (help)<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  • Larzelere, Alex (2003). The Coast Guard in World War I: An Untold Story. Naval Institute Press, Annapolis, Maryland. ISBN 978-1-55750-476-0.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>

External links