The Army Distinguished Service Cross: A History and Overview

We have been seeing more and more Medal of Honor (MoH) awards lately (that have been long overdue), and that is the highest honor that could be given to any servicemember. The Medal of Honor is extremely hard to earn (mostly impossible for the majority of us), and it should be that way! However, it isn’t the only decoration for valor that we are able to earn.

The Bronze Star and Silver Star are more familiar awards to most of us. However, the Distinguished Service Cross is second only to the MoH and is given to those who have demonstrated extreme gallantry and risk of life while in direct combat. This article will be dedicated to talking about the Distinguished Service Cross – when it was first awarded, how many have been given, and the criteria.

The Distinguished Service Cross is NOT the same as the Distinguished Service Medal. The DSC was first awarded during WWI, and was established by President Woodrow Wilson in 1918. Title 10, USC, tells us that any enlisted member that retires with more than 20 years of service and was awarded the DSC, gets a 10% retired pay increase. This holds true for the DSC and the other branch equivalent awards, as well as the MoH.

The criteria for the DSC, as taken from AR 600-8-2, reads: “The Distinguished Service Cross is awarded to a person who, while serving in any capacity with the Army, distinguished himself or herself by extraordinary heroism not justifying the award of a Medal of Honor; while engaged in an action against an enemy of the United States; while engaged in military operations involving conflict with an opposing or foreign force; or while serving with friendly foreign forces engaged in an armed conflict against an opposing Armed Force in which the United States is not a belligerent party. 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 their comrades.”

The preparation for the award is the same as others, utilize DA Form 638 and process it through appropriate channels. The only award that has a different submission requirement is the MoH.

The history of the award is interesting. In WWI, over 6,300 DSCs were given, to just over 6,100 recipients. This means there were servicemembers who received more than one. Eddie Rickenbacker was awarded ten DSCs, which was later upgraded to a MoH. Most of the multiple award recipients were aviators like Rickenbacker. Other notable recipients during this time were Theodore Roosevelt, Jr (son of the former President); then-BG Douglas MacArthur, who later earned a MoH; and George S. Patton, Jr.

In WWII, over 5,000 awards were given. Many of them earned their first DSC in WWI. In the Korean War, they awarded less than 1,000, and several hundred were posthumous. In Vietnam, there were just over 1,000, and almost half were posthumously given. Notable recipients included LTC Hal Moore and others who were featured in his book.

Since Vietnam, there haven’t been as many awarded. There have only been ten of these awards awarded for Operation Enduring Freedom, and fifteen for Operation Iraqi Freedom. In OEF, the last award given was in 2010, while for OIF, 2007 saw the last DSC awarded, with the first being in 2001 for OEF and 2004 for OIF.

Do any of you know someone who received a Distinguished Service Cross? What are your thoughts on this award? Please leave comments and stories below. I am interested to see if anybody knows any of these Soldiers. One thing I noticed is that during WWI, most of the multiple recipients were aviators, while in current wars, majority have been infantry.

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3 thoughts on “The Army Distinguished Service Cross: A History and Overview”

  1. I believe that being awarded medals and ribbons are a great way to instill a sense of history and pride for your branch of service. The trend of decreased awards is interesting. Like Chuck mentions, I wonder if it could be the different style of fighting, like he says? I have a hard time thinking that a superior officer would neglect a well-deserved accolade. Paperwork is a way of life the higher your rank, but so are the medals and ribbons.

  2. I like what you commented Chuck. It is up to the leaders to submit their brave soldiers for these awards. I believe that at times, leaders get so caught up in other business, they neglect this very important part. I recently authored a book on many who received these honors and were of Puerto Rican heritage. In time I would like to do books on ones from Operation Enduring Freedom and other battles. Please leaders; submit the soldiers who deserve this award.

  3. I find it really amazing that so FEW Soldiers have been awarded the Distinguished Service Cross in recent years. I understand the “style of fighting” is much different today than it was in WW1 and WW2.

    That being said, we still have tons of brave Soldiers who do some amazing things in combat.

    It’s really up to the small unit leaders out there to be aware of what their troops do and to make sure they submit their Soldiers for awards when deserving.

    Just my two cents.

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