The Army Distinguished Service Cross: 10 Things You Should Know About It

There are many civilians, and even a few military people that do not completely understand the Distinguished Service Cross (DSC). My goal is to help fix that. The DSC is highly respected, and anyone who has been awarded it has every right to be proud.

In today’s post, I have done some extensive research and will provide you with some interesting information. These are 10 things you should know about the Distinguished Service Cross.

The Distinguished Service Cross: Cool Facts

What do you know about the DSC? Let’s test your knowledge of the award and see what you can learn!

# 1: Second Highest Military Award

The Army Distinguished Service Cross is the second highest award an Army officer or soldier can attain. The only award that is higher is the esteemed Congressional Medal of Honor. The equivalents in the other service branches are the Navy Cross (Navy and Marines), the Air Force Cross, and the Coast Guard Cross.

# 2: No Comparison To The Distinguished Service Medal

The Distinguished Service Cross was first awarded during World War I. In addition, a number of awards were bestowed for actions which took place before World War I. The Distinguished Service Cross is only awarded for actions in combat, while the Distinguished Service Medal has no such restriction. ~ Wikipedia

While the Distinguished Service Medal is a huge honor to be presented with, it is not the same level of the Distinguished Service Cross. The main difference in my opinion is: you risk your life to earn the Distinguished Service Cross, whereas the Distinguished Service Medal is awarded to those who provide meritorious service to the government. I have noticed that many people think these two awards are the same. They are not!

facts about the Army Distinguished Service Cross

# 3: How it All Began

In 1918, President Woodrow Wilson established the Distinguished Service Cross to overtake the Certificate of Merit. Later that year, Congress agreed and this prestigious award was implemented. Someone awarded the Certificate of Merit in previous wars had them upgraded to the Distinguished Service Cross.

# 4: Earliest Awards

I mentioned in #3 about Certificates of Merit being upgraded to the Distinguished Service Cross. The earliest of these were in the Indian Campaigns in which seven awards were issued. Those lasted from 1861-1898.

# 5: How Many Have Been Awarded?

Since its establishment, over 13,000 of these prestigious awards have been awarded. The amount in each branch are:

  • Army-11,395

  • Air Force-1,117

  • Navy-67

  • Marines-417

  • Civilians-11

  • Foreigners-440

These service members risked their lives and limbs in service to the United States of America.

# 6: Requirements to Qualify

 The act or acts of heroism must have been so notable and have involved risk of life so extraordinary as to set the individual apart from his or her comrades. ~ Smithsonian

The Distinguished Service Cross is awarded to anyone serving the United States Army who shows extreme heroism while engaged against an enemy of the United States, but does not justify awarding the Medal of Honor. The act must be so noteworthy and of risk to their own lives that it sets that person apart from all others in the same unit.

# 7: Two Famous People Who Received It

It probably isn’t something you must know, but it is quite interesting all the same. These are two famous people you may not know were awarded the Distinguished Service Cross:

  1. The great actor Audie Murphy 1925-1971. In World War II, this actor starred in many westerns and the great movie: To Hell And Back, earned almost every award possible that a Soldier could possibly earn. He received both the Congressional Medal of Honor and the Distinguished Service Cross, along with many other awards.

  2. Alexander Haig 1924-2010 was a great politician. He served as Secretary of State under President Reagan, and as White House Chief of Staff under President’s Nixon and Ford. Haig was a veteran of both Korea and Vietnam, and he was awarded the Distinguished Service Cross.

During the first wave of the Allied invasion of southern France, Murphy received the Distinguished Service Cross for action taken on 15 August 1944. After landing on Yellow Beach near Ramatuelle, Murphy’s platoon was making its way through a vineyard when the men were attacked by German soldiers. He retrieved a machine gun that had been detached from the squad and returned fire at the German soldiers, killing two and wounding one. ~ Wikipedia

# 8: Generals Who Were Awarded The DSC

The United States had some of her greatest leaders earn the Army Distinguished Service Cross. When a leader risks their life for their soldiers, you know you reside in a great country. These are Generals who have been awarded the DSC:

  • 4 Star General Walton Walker: 1889-1950. Served in World War I, II, and Korea.

  • Major General William Mitchell: 1879-1936. Served in World War I.

  • Major General Robert Beightler: 1892-1978. Served in World Wars I and II.

  • 4 Star General William Hoge: 1894-1979. Served in World War I, II, and Korea.

  • 4 Star General William Momyer: 1916-2012. Served in World War II and Vietnam.

  • Lieutenant General Thomas Trapnell: 1902-2002. Served in World War II and Korea.

  • 4 Star General James Lindsay: 1932-Date. Served in Vietnam.

  • Lieutenant General William Tunner: 1906-1983. Served in World War II and Korea.

  • Brigadier General David “Tex” Hill: 1915-2007. Served in World War II and Korea.

  • Lieutenant General Richard Sutherland: 1893-1966. Served in the Pancho Villa Expedition, World Wars I and II.

  • 4 Star General Courtney Hodges: 1887-1966. It needs to be noted that he rose from private to general. He served in World War I and II.

  • 4 Star General Carl Spaatz: 1891-1974. Served in the Mexican Expedition, World Wars I and II.

  • Major General William Dean: 1899-1981. Served in World War II and Korea.

  • 4 Star General Mark Clark: 1896-1984. Served in World Wars I and II and in Korea.

  • Brigadier General Paul Tibbets: 1915-2007. Pilot of the Enola Gay that bombed Hiroshima. He served in World War II.

  • 4 Star General George Patton: 1885-1945. Served in the Mexican Revolution, World War I and II.

  • 5 Star General Douglas MacArthur: 1880-1964. Served in the Mexican Revolution, World War I, II, and Korea.

The Distinguished Service Cross Award

# 9: Foreign Recipients 

We must remember there have been non-citizens who have laid their lives on the line for the U.S. In research, I discovered people of these nationalities have been awarded the Distinguished Service Cross:

  • Soviet

  • British

  • Australian

  • New Zealander

  • French

  • Filipino

  • Vietnamese

  • Belgian

  • Italian

  • Romanian

# 10: Most Awards Earned by One Person

He earned an amazing 10 Distinguished Service Crosses, but one was taken away…it was upgraded to the Medal Of Honor. Major Eddie Rickenbacker was one of the greatest fighter pilots the United States ever had. His service during World War I earned him a wide range of awards.

Final Thoughts

In summary, the Distinguished Service Cross is a prestigious military award for heroism. It’s second, right behind the Congressional Medal of Honor. Anyone nominated or awarded the DSC should be proud of their military service.

If you or someone you know has earned this honor, please tell us about it.  Just leave a comment below to do so. I hope you learned something in this post…I know I learned a lot in researching for it. Thank you.

Other posts you may enjoy:

  1. Distinguished International Shooter Badge: An Overview
  2. The Defense Distinguished Service Medal: 10 Cool Facts
  3. The Army Achievement Medal
  4. Distinguished Warfare Medal Debate
  5. Honorable Ancient Distinguished Order of Saint Martin Award for Army Quartermaster Personnel
chuck holmes

Chuck Holmes
Former Army Major (resigned)

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2 thoughts on “The Army Distinguished Service Cross: 10 Things You Should Know About It”

  1. Charles F. Pfeifer Jr., 180 E. 79th, NY, NY 10075, was a Special Forces Green Beret officer during the Vietnam War. Chuck is a West Point graduate, where he played on the football team. He earned the Top Ranger award at Fort Benning, and helped train hundreds of Nungs for service in Vietnam. During one of the most famous battles of the Vietnam War in August, 1968, when 16 Green Berets were killed, Chuck Pfeifer led a counterattack when FOB-4 was overrun in the middle of the night. He singlehandedly killed numerous highly-trained North Vietnam sappers after being blown out of his hutch. He also served behind enemy lines in Laos. Chuck holds Bronze and Silver Medals for his service in Vietnam. There is a book titled, “Daiwi,” about his life. As a side note, Chuck was well known for his grenade-throwing abilities that undoubtedly saved many lives the night of the August 1968 battle. He is well deserving of any award the Army may offer.

  2. There are many awards you can earn doing service for the US, and to me it is neat to hear about how you earn it, the history of it, and so on. It really just goes to show the work our soldiers put into keeping us safe. Amazing.

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