An Overview of the Top Three US Navy Awards for Valour

Introduction

In 1787, Colonel David Humphreys – The American War of Independence colonel and aide-de-camp to General George Washington – wrote:

“Few inventions could be more happily calculated to diffuse the knowledge and preserve the memory of illustrious characters and splendid events, than medals.”

He wrote this statement more than a decade after the Continental Congress first instituted the tradition of issuing medals to recognise and show appreciation for distinguished military service in 1776. Nearly two-and-a-half centuries later, his words still ring true, and we will take a look at navy medals for valour and what they mean.

Background

The awarding of medals remains one of the most time-honoured, cherished, and sacred traditions in the culture and history of the United States (US) Armed Forces. All five branches – the Army, Navy, Air Force, Marines, and Coast Guard – award medals to their personnel, including members active duty Servicemembers, Reserves, and National Guard (and also the units in which they serve).

Military medals can recognise bravery or gallantry, heroism, or meritorious service. They may be awarded for actions during peacetime or war, in defence of civilians or fellow service members, and they can be earned for actions taken during the course of combat or outside of direct military conflict.

Some medals denote extraordinary service in air/aerial operations, some are specific to ground operations, and others are reserved only for those involved in naval operations. There are medals specific to the issuing branch, while others can be bestowed on any member of any branch of service. Medals can indicate service in a specific conflict, for example Afghanistan or the Global War on Terror (GWOT), or even for honouring individual service. There are even medals issued to entire units.

Below is a look at the most important and storied Navy medals issued for valour. Keep reading to learn what they mean, what it takes to earn one, who issues them, and where they rank in terms of prominence.

The Top Three Medals for Valour

The top three medals for valour are:

  1. Medal of Honour.
  2. Distinguished Service Cross (Army), Navy Cross, and Air Force Cross.
  3. Silver Star.

Medal of Honour

The Medal of Honour is the highest military decoration that may be awarded by the US government.

Army, Navy, and Air Force versions of the Medal of Honour.

It is presented, in the name of Congress, by the President of the United States (although this can be delegated) and is conferred only upon members of the US Armed Forces who distinguish themselves through conspicuous gallantry and intrepidity at the risk of life above and beyond the call of duty:

  • While engaged in action against an enemy of the US;
  • While engaged in military operations involving conflict with an opposing foreign force; or
  • While serving with friendly foreign forces engaged in an armed conflict against an opposing armed force in which the US is not a belligerent party.

There are three distinct versions:

  • One for the US Army;
  • One for the US Air Force; and
  • One for the US Navy, the US Marine Corps, and the US Coast Guard.

The Medal of Honour, along with the Legion of Merit, are the only two medals worn around the neck.

Distinguished Service Cross (Army)

The Distinguished Service Cross (DSC) is the second highest military decoration that can be awarded to a member of the US Army (and previously, the United States Army Air Forces, USAAF).

It is awarded for extraordinary heroism:

  • While engaged in action against an enemy of the US;
  • While engaged in military operations involving conflict with an opposing foreign force; or
  • While serving with friendly foreign forces engaged in an armed conflict against an opposing armed force in which the US is not a belligerent party.

Actions that merit the DSC must be of such a high degree that they are above those required for all other US combat decorations but do not merit award of the Medal of Honour.

The DSC is equivalent to the Navy Cross (Navy and Marine Corps, and Coast Guard when operating under the authority of the Department of the Navy) and the Air Force Cross.

Navy Cross

The Navy Cross is the second highest military decoration that may be awarded to a member of the Navy, Marine Corps, (and to members of the Coast Guard when operating under the authority of the Department of the Navy). It is awarded for extraordinary heroism:

  • While engaged in action against an enemy of the US;
  • While engaged in military operations involving conflict with an opposing foreign force; or
  • While serving with friendly foreign forces engaged in an armed conflict against an opposing armed force in which the US is not a belligerent party.

Actions that merit the Navy Cross must be of such a high degree that they are above those required for all other US combat decorations but do not merit award of the Medal of Honour.

Air Force Cross

The Air Force Cross is the second highest military decoration that may be awarded to a member of the US Air Force. It is awarded for extraordinary heroism:

  • While engaged in action against an enemy of the US;
  • While engaged in military operations involving conflict with an opposing foreign force; or
  • While serving with friendly foreign forces engaged in an armed conflict against an opposing armed force in which the US is not a belligerent party.

Actions that merit the Air Force Cross must be of such a high degree that they are above those required for all other US combat decorations but do not merit award of the Medal of Honour.

Silver Star

Silver Star.

The Silver Star is the third-highest military combat decoration that can be awarded to a member of the US Armed Forces.

It is awarded for gallantry in action:

  • While engaged in action against an enemy of the US;
  • While engaged in military operations involving conflict with an opposing foreign force; or
  • While serving with friendly foreign forces engaged in an armed conflict against an opposing armed force in which the US is not a belligerent party.

Actions that merit the Silver Star must be of such a high degree that they are above those required for all other US combat decorations but do not merit award of the meet Medal of Honour or a Service Cross (DSC, the Navy Cross, or the Air Force Cross).

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