The Distinguished Flying Cross is a military decoration awarded to any officer or enlisted member of the United States Armed Forces who distinguishes himself or herself in support of operations by "heroism or extraordinary achievement while participating in an aerial flight, subsequent to November 11, 1918."
LTG Ray Odierno presents Distinguished Flying Crosses to Army aviators in Iraq.
The first award of the Distinguished Flying Cross was made by President Calvin Coolidge on May 2, 1927, to ten aviators of the U.S. Army Air Corps who had participated in the U.S. Army Pan American Flight, which took place from December 21, 1926 to May 2, 1927. Two of the airmen died in a mid-air collision trying to land at Buenos Aires on February 26, 1927, and received their awards posthumously. Since the award had only been authorized by Congress the previous year, no medals had yet been struck, and the Pan American airmen initially received only certificates. Among the ten airmen were Major Herbert A. Dargue, Captains Ira C. Eaker and Muir S. Fairchild, and 1st Lt. Ennis C. Whitehead.
Charles Lindbergh received the first presentation of the medal little more than a month later, from Coolidge during the Washington, D.C. homecoming reception on June 11, 1927, from his trans-Atlantic flight. The medal had hurriedly been struck and readied just for that occasion. Interestingly, the 1927 War Department General Order (G.O. 8), authorizing Lindbergh's DFC states that it was awarded by the President, while the General Order (G.O. 6) for the Pan American Flyers' DFC citation notes that the War Department awarded it "by direction of the President."
The first Distinguished Flying Cross to be awarded to a Naval Aviator was received by then Commander Richard E. Byrd, USN for his trans-Atlantic flight from June 29 to July 1, 1927 from New York City to the coast of France. Byrd, along with his pilot, Machinist Floyd Bennett, received the Medal of Honor for their historic flight to the North Pole on May 9, 1926 but they did not receive the DFC for that flight as the DFC had not yet been created.
Numerous military recipients of the medal would later earn greater fame in other occupations—a number of astronauts, actors, and politicians (including former President George H. W. Bush) have been Distinguished Flying Cross recipients.
Amelia Earhart became the first woman to receive the DFC on July 29, 1932 when it was presented to her by Vice President Charles Curtis in Los Angeles. Earhart received the decoration for her solo flight across the Atlantic Ocean earlier that year.
World War II
During World War II the medal's award criteria varied widely depending on the theater of operations, aerial combat, and the missions accomplished. In the Pacific oftentimes commissioned officers were awarded the DFC, while enlisted men were given the Air Medal. In Europe some crews, often received it for performances throughout a tour of duty; elsewhere different criteria were used.
During wartime, members of the Armed Forces of friendly foreign nations serving with the United States are eligible for the Distinguished Flying Cross. It is also given to those who display heroism while working as instructors or students at flying schools.
During the Vietnam War high ranking Army officers often received the DFC for directing combat operations from aircraft.
The Distinguished Flying Cross was authorized by Section 12 of the Air Corps Act enacted by the United States Congress on July 2, 1926, as amended by Executive Order 7786 on January 8, 1938. This act provided for award “to any person, while serving in any capacity with the Air Corps of the Army of the United States, including the National Guard and the Organized Reserves, or with the United States Navy, since the 6th day of April 1917, has distinguished, or who, after the approval of this Act, distinguishes himself, or herself by heroism or extraordinary achievement while participating in an aerial flight.”
The Distinguished Flying Cross was designed by Elizabeth Will and Arthur E. DuBois. The medal is a bronze cross pattee, on whose obverse is superimposed a four-bladed propeller, 1 11/16 inches in width. Five rays extend from the reentrant angles, forming a one-inch square. The reverse is blank; it is suitable for engraving the recipient's name and rank. The cross is suspended from a rectangular bar.
The suspension and service ribbon of the medal is 1 3/8 inches wide and consists of the following stripes: 3/32 inch Ultramarine Blue 67118; 9/64 inch White 67101; 11/32 inch Ultramarine Blue 67118; 3/64 inch White 67101; center stripe 3/32 inch Old Glory Red 67156; 3/64 inch White 67101; 11/32 inch Ultramarine Blue 67118; 9/64 inch White 67101; 3/32 inch Ultramarine Blue 67118.
Additional awards of the Distinguished Flying Cross are shown with bronze or silver Oak Leaf Clusters for the Army and Air Force, and gold and sliver 5⁄16 Inch Stars for the Navy, Marine Corps, and Coast Guard.
The Air Force, Navy, and Marine Corps may authorize the "V" device for wear on the DFC to denote valor in combat; Navy and Marine Corps, Combat "V". The Army does not authorize the "V" device to be worn on the DFC (even though the Army awards the DFC "for single acts of heroism" or "extraordinary achievement" while participating in aerial flight). The other services can also award the DFC for extraordinary achievement without the "V" device.
In the popular TV series JAG, the lead character, Commander Harmon Rabb, USN (played by David James Elliott), was a US Navy aviator and a two-time recipient of the Distinguished Flying Cross with "V" device.
In the television series The Pretender, Kyle (played by Jeffrey Donovan) had a Distinguished Flying Cross supposedly given to him by his father. Before his death, Kyle gave the medal to his brother Jarod (played by Michael T. Weiss).
Colonel Guy Gardner: Space Shuttle pilot and recipient of three DFCs.
Colonel John Glenn, USMC: One of the original seven American astronauts, first American to orbit the earth in Friendship 7, United States Senator, recipient of the Congressional Space Medal of Honor and the Presidential Medal of Freedom.
Captain John Young, USN: Flew on Apollo 10 and Apollo 16, commander of the first space shuttle mission and recipient of the Congressional Space Medal of Honor. One of only nine humans with six or more spaceflights.
Major Deke Slayton, USAF: One of the original seven American astronauts, NASA chief astronaut and docking module pilot for the Apollo-Soyuz mission.
Note: Although astronaut Neil Armstrong's achievements as an aviator and an astronaut more than exceeded the requirements for the DFC, he was ineligible for the DFC as he was a civilian for his entire career with NASA.
Wilbur Wright: Aviation pioneer. Posthumously awarded by Act of Congress on December 18, 1928.
Marshal of the Air Force Arjan Singh DFC
Wing Commander James Blackburn DSO, DFC, RAF: Distinguished British pilot during World War II.
Wing Commander W.H. Burbury, DFC, AFC, RAF: Distinguished British pilot during World War II.
Wing Commander A. Warburton, DSO & Bar, DFC & Two Bars, RAF: Distinguished British reconnaissance pilot during World War II.
Colonel Francesco De Pinedo, Italian Air Force: Completed the Four Continents Flight in a flying boat in 1927.
Lieutenant Colonel Dieudonné Costes, French Army: Completed around the world flight.
Lieutenant Commander Joseph Le Brix, French Navy: Completed around the world flight.
Major James Fitzmaurice, Irish Free State Air Force: Flew on first non-stop westward crossing of the Atlantic Ocean on the Bremen.
Major Hsi-Chun Hua, Chinese Air Force: Awarded DFC for extraordinary achievement while participating in aerial flight on 3 August 1959, while serving as aircraft commander in the 4080th Strategic Reconnaissance Wing, Light.
Captain Hermann Köhl, German Army: Flew on first non-stop westward crossing of the Atlantic Ocean.
Pilot Officer Heaton D. Hampton DFC, RNZAF World War II
Colonel Kim Campbell, USAF: For successfully completing her mission supporting ground troops over Baghdad in April 2003 and successfully landing her A-10 back at base despite sustaining severe damage to her aircraft.
First Lieutenant Bob Hoover, USAAF: POW and record breaking pilot.
First Lieutenant Aleda E. Lutz, USAAF: World War II Army flight nurse, second most decorated woman in United States history. Awards: Distinguished Flying Cross, Purple Heart, four Air Medals, Red Cross Medal, European-African Theatre Ribbon, and the Oak Leaf Clusters.
2nd Lieutenant Dean Cullom Smith, USAACR: Pilot for Admiral Byrd's 1928 to 1930 Antarctic Expedition.
Colonel David Hackworth, USA: Highly decorated Army officer, commentator and author. Recipient of 2 Distinguished Service Crosses, 10 Silver Stars, 8 Bronze Star Medals and 8 Purple Hearts.
Colonel Harold "Marsh" Ramey, US Army: Vietnam War helicopter master aviator. Recipient of Distinguished Flying Cross, Bronze Star with Oak Leaf Cluster, 29 Air Medals for Vietnam, Army Aviation Association Order of St. Michael Medal, nominated to the Army Aviation Hall of Fame.
Lieutenant Colonel Bo Gritz, USA: Highly decorated Special Forces officer in Vietnam who received five Silver Stars.
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