The National Museum of
American Jewish Military History

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Hall of Heroes:American Jewish Recipients of The Medal of Honor

The Distinguished Service Cross, Navy Cross and Air Force Cross

Hall of Heroes: American Jewish Recipients of the Medal of Honor

The First World War was the first time that American troops were deployed in battle with the troops of other nations. Because of lobbying efforts from the Medal of Honor Legion, the criteria for the Medal of Honor had been tightened and fewer acts of heroism would qualify to receive the Medal. General John J. Pershing, Commander-in-Chief of the American Expeditionary Forces, worried that his soldiers' morale would be destroyed when they saw their Allied comrades receiving medals for the same heroic acts they received nothing for. He recommended a new medal, the Distinguished Service Cross, to be given to American soldiers for heroism in battle not justifying the Medal of Honor. Since 1918, the Distinguished Service Cross has been given to personnel serving with the Army who distinguish themselves by extraordinary heroism that sets them apart from their comrades. At the same time, the Silver Star was established as the third level medal for the Army.

The next year, the Navy Cross was established to recognize Navy and Marine personnel. The Navy Cross was meant for combat heroism, but in the interwar years was also presented for bravery in submarine disaster rescues. Originally meant as a third tier medal, below the Navy Medal of Honor and the Navy Distinguished Service Medal, the Navy Cross was promoted to the second highest decoration in 1942.

When the Navy Cross was established, the Navy Secretary, Josephus Daniels, asked for retroactive recommendations to reward those whose heroism in World War I qualified them for a medal. However, when rewarding personnel with the Navy Cross and Navy Distinguished Service Medal, Daniels decided what they deserved by sometimes arbitrary standards. All commanders of ships that were sunk by the enemy received the Distinguished Service Medal, yet commanders of ships that sunk enemy ships often received nothing. It took a special Congressional investigation and the creation of the Navy Department Board of Decorations and Medals to organize and reassign medals to appropriate personnel.

In 1942, legislation formalized the Pyramid of Honor with the Medal of Honor on top and the Distinguished Service Cross and Navy Cross on the second tier.

After its establishment as a separate service branch in 1948, the Air Force personnel were decorated with the Army's Distinguished Service Cross during the Korean War. In 1960, Congress authorized the Air Force Cross to be awarded for heroic action falling "just short of warranting the Medal of Honor." Twenty-one airmen have been honored with this medal.

The difference between the Medal of Honor and the second level service crosses is close and sometimes blurred. All the medals are given in recognition of extraordinary heroism and are an honor to the soldiers, sailors, airmen and marines who wear them.

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