After the Medal of Honor, the Navy Cross is the highest award a member of the United States Navy, U.S. Marines, or U.S. Coast Guard may earn.
The Navy Cross is the service-specific equivalent to the Army’s Distinguished Service Cross. There are five top-ranking military medals awarded for valor. They are, in reverse order of precedence:
- Silver Star
- Air Force Cross
- Navy Cross (for members of the Navy, Marine Corps, or Coast Guard)
- Distinguished Service Cross
- Congressional Medal of Honor
Of the list above, the Crosses have identical merit; the Navy Cross has the same precedence as the Air Force Cross, etc. The Crosses come second to the Medal of Honor but are higher than the Silver Star in terms of precedence.
Navy Cross awards are made for combat heroism which was exceptional but did not qualify for the Medal of Honor. Below the Navy Cross, the Silver Star is awarded for exceptional valor that didn’t meet Navy Cross requirements.
Qualifying Criteria For The Navy Cross
The Navy Cross is an individual award and not a group honor. It is presented for specific individual acts of valor. This usually happens during a battle or other military operation defined over a small, fixed period of time.
The individual action is what’s being recognized rather than a more general participation-type honor. The acts of valor or heroism must have occurred:
- While engaged in military operations against an “opposing foreign force,” OR
- While serving with, “friendly foreign forces” against an opposing armed force in which the United States is not a belligerent party.
- The required heroism, while of a lesser degree than that required for award of the Medal of Honor, must nevertheless have been performed with marked distinction.
The Navy Cross may be awarded to non-Navy, Non-Marine Corps, and non-Coast Guard personnel including members of foreign militaries. Anyone who serves in a different branch of the U.S. military may earn the Navy Cross while serving with the Marines, Coast Guard, or Navy.
Navy criteria for this award includes the acts of valor being performed “in the presence of great danger, or at great personal risk”, and must be considered “highly conspicuous” compared to peers serving in equal rank, grade, responsibility, etc.
The nomination criteria for the Navy Cross includes a restriction. No Navy Cross may be awarded for non-combat acts or accumulations of minor acts.
Getting Nominated For A Navy Cross
The first criteria for the Navy Cross is the act of exceptionalism in combat that earned the award. But following those deeds, there is a nomination process, the nomination application package must be reviewed and approved.
The DoD prefers its leadership to submit recommendations for valor award 45 days after the qualifying circumstances occurred. The DoD tries to approve or deny awards within a year of the process start.
Aside from the individual’s actions that earn the medal, the sailor, Coast Guardsman, or Marine doesn’t really have much input save for what a supervisor might require from the service member in order to initiate the process (documentation of the incidents in question, for example, may be required in the application package).
Non-Navy Personnel Who Have Earned The Navy Cross
A small number of U.S. Army troops have earned the Navy Cross including:
- Stephen J. Chamberlin
- Rex T. Barber
- Thomas George Lanphier, Jr.
- John W. Mitchell
- John U.D. Page
A larger number of non-U.S. troops have earned the Navy Cross. There are too many to list here, but among them the following have been awarded the Navy Cross:
- Nikolai Basistiy, Soviet Union
- Gordon Bridson, New Zealand
- Ernesto Burzagli, Italy
- Harold Farncomb, Australia
- Donald Gilbert Kennedy of the British Solomon Islands Protectorate Defence Force
- Israel Fisanovich, Soviet Union
- George Victor Jmaeff, Canada
- Émile Henry Muselier,
- Tran Van Bay, South Vietnam
- Nguyen Van Kiet, South Vietnam
Origins Of The Navy Cross
The story of the Navy Cross begins with the approval of the creation of the United States Army award known as the Distinguished Service Cross (DSC). That happened in 1918, thanks to a request from General John Pershing to the White House.
It wouldn’t be long before the U.S. Navy followed suit in 1919. The Defense Department needed a service-specific award for sailors that would honor valor in combat that could not hit the highest expectations–those required to earn the Congressional Medal of Honor.
Enter the Navy Cross, which was initially below both the Medal of Honor and the Navy Distinguished Service Medal due to a technicality, but circa 1942, Congress revised the Navy Cross to become a “combat-only” award.
The Navy Cross has been awarded in more than six thousand instances. At least two of those awards have been done in secret according to some sources.
The first woman to earn a Navy Cross is recognized as Lenah H. Sutcliffe Higbee, whom the USS Higbee is named after. She earned the Navy Cross for her acts in World War One as the second superintendent of the United States Navy Nurse Corps.
Joe Wallace is a 13-year veteran of the United States Air Force and a former reporter for Air Force Television News
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