The Distinguished Service Cross was established by order of President Woodrow Wilson, as promulgated in War Department General Orders Number 6 of January 12, 1918, and formalized by Act of Congress on July 9, 1918 (Public Law 193, 65th Congress).


The Distinguished Service Cross has been in effect since April 6, 1917; however, under certain circumstances the Distinguished Service Cross may be awarded for services rendered prior to April 6, 1917 (see information provided under the Certificate of Merit).


The Distinguished Service Cross may awarded to a person who, while serving in any capacity with the Army, distinguishes himself by extraordinary heroism not justifying the award of a Medal of Honor. This extraordinary heroism must take place while the individual is engaged in an action against an enemy of the United States; or while he is engaged in military operations involving conflict with an opposing foreign force; or while he is serving with friendly foreign forces that are 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 be so notable and involve risk of life so extraordinary as to set the individual apart from his comrades.


The Distinguished Service Cross is worn after the Medal of Honor and before all other decorations.


Additional awards are denoted by oak leaf clusters.


The Distinguished Service Cross was designed by First Lieutenant Andre Smith and modified by Captain Aymar Embury, both of the Camouflage Section, 40th Engineers, at Camp American University. Embury's final design was sculpted by John R. Sinnock of the Philadelphia Mint.


The first awards of the Distinguished Service Cross were made on March 18, 1918, to three soldiers from the 1st Division:
  • Second Lieutenant John Newport Greene of the 6th Field Artillery
  • Sergeant William M. Norton, Company I, 18th Infantry
  • Private Patrick Walsh, Company I, 18th Infantry.


The first style Distinguished Service Cross was struck in bronze and is one and seven-eighths inches in height and one and five-eighths inches wide. The suspender was originally part of the overall design of the medal; however, it proved unworkable and was replaced by a ball through which the suspension ring was passed. The central feature of the medal is an eagle centered on the cross over a four-pointed diamond outline with one point centered in each arm of the cross and with a five-pointed star at each point of the diamond. The eagle's wings are displayed and extend into the upper re-entrant angles of the cross. The arms of the cross are heavily decorated with oak leaves, and below the eagle in the lower re-entrant angles of the cross is a scroll bearing the inscription, E PLURIBUS UNUM.

The eagle represents the bald eagle and symbolizes the United States. The five-pointed stars are taken from the United States flag and refer collectively to the United States, just as the inscription on the scroll refers to the fact that the United States is one nation composed of many states. The oak leaves stand for strength and courage. The inscription on the scroll is taken from the Great Seal of the United States and refers to the United States as one nation composed of many peoples.


In the center of the cross is a rectangular plaque containing the inscription, FOR VALOR. The plaque rests on a circular wreath of laurel leaves in the center of which appears a decorative staff. The laurel wreath represents victory and achievement.


The ribbon was designed by Captain Andre Smith and has a central field of blue (one inch wide) edged in white and red, with the red forming the outermost colors of the ribbon. The colors of the ribbon are those of the flag and stand for purity (white), sacrifice (red), and high purpose (blue).



The second style Distinguished Service Cross is a modification of the first style; it has a sculptured inner cross mounted on a flat cross with decorative, fluted edges. At the end of each arm is a small ornamental scroll topped by a ball. An eagle with displayed wings is centered on the cross and behind the eagle is a circular wreath of laurel (which replaces the diamond in the first style cross). The laurel wreath is tied at its base by a scroll which extends into the lower re-entrant angles of the cross and contains the inscriptionp, FOR VALOR.


The reverse also features a sculptured inner cross on a flat cross, with the same decorations at the edges that appear on the obverse. The back and tips of the eagles wings are also shown. Centered upon the cross is a circular wreath of laurel with a bowknot at the bottom from which flows the back of the scroll, joining the arms of the cross. In the center of the wreath is a rectangular plaque with decorative edges, which is blank for engraving the recipient's name.


Same as for the first style Distinguished Service Cross.


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