In 1926, the Distinguished Flying Cross (DFC), a military decoration awarded to any officer or enlisted member of the United States military who distinguish themselves through heroism or extraordinary achievement that is clearly distinctive involving operations during aerial flight that are not routine, was formally introduced. Though it has been reserved for members of the military, a few civilians like the Wright Brothers and Amelia Earhart have been awarded the DFC. Awarding the DFC to civilians ended following an executive order in 1927.

The first person presented the Distinguished Flying Cross medal was Charles A. Lindbergh. A Captain in the U.S. Army Air Service, Lindbergh was awarded the DFC for his historic non-stop solo flight from New York’s Long Island to Paris, France.

Distinguished Flying Cross DFCIn precedence, the Distinguished Flying Cross is lower (worn after) than the Legion of Merit but higher (worn before) than Soldier’s Medal, Navy Marine Corps medal, Airman’s Medal and the Coast Guard Medal. The DFC medal is a bronze four-bladed propeller contained within a cross suspended from a straight bar hanging from a blue ribbon that has white stripes and a red stripe in the center. Following the first award, additional awards are identified by bronze of silver oak leafs, and gold or silver stars, depending on the service branch. If awarded for valor in combat, members in the Air Force, Navy, and Marine Corps, may be authorized to wear a letter “V” on the DFC.

Though it is unknown how many DFCs have been awarded over the decades, there are over 6,200 members of the Distinguished Flying Cross Society. That organization claims there may be thousands more that are not currently members.

We have chosen a few members from each service and other notable examples of DFC recipients and included them below. There are many more, and if you are looking for someone specific, try the link at the bottom of this article to the Military Time’s Wall of Valor.

A Few Notable Distinguished Flying Cross Recipients

U.S. Army Air Corps/Forces

  • Pan American Flight Aviators – Awarded on May 2, 1927 to the ten aviators of the U.S. Army Air Corps who had participated in the U.S. Army Pan American Flight. Flying five Loening OA-1A Amphibious Observation Aircraft, two aviators in each plane flew from Texas through Central and into South America before returning through the Caribbean and on to Washington, D.C. from Dec. 21, 1926 to May 2, 1927.
  • DFC Recipient, Lt. General Doolittle, USAAF

    DFC Recipient, Lt. General Doolittle, USAAF

    Jimmy Doolittle – For his role in planning and leading the Doolittle Raid on Japan on April 18, 1942, Doolittle was awarded the Medal of Honor and his third Distinguished Flying Cross.

  • Richard Bong – The most decorated and highest scoring flying ace from WWII with 40 Japanese aircraft shot down in his P-38 Lightning fighter. He would be awarded seven Distinguished Flying Crosses in all.

U.S. Navy

  • C. Wade McClusky – was awarded the Distinguished Flying Cross for his crucial role in a decisive victory at the Battle of Midway. He led a group of scout dive bombers that despite running low on fuel, discovered and attacked the Japanese carriers, Kaga and Akagi. This led to the two carriers destruction and turned the tide in this Battle of Midway.
  • John McCain – U.S. Naval Aviator in Vietnam and U.S. Senator from Arizona. McCain was awarded the Distinguished Flying Cross for his bombing missions flown over North Vietnam in his A-4E Skyhawk. During his 24th bombing mission he was shot down and captured by the North Vietnamese and held as a POW for five and a half years.

U.S. Marine Corps

  • Captain Armando Espinoza – In Baghdad, Iraq, while piloting a CH-46E Sea Knight helicopter, made four repeated trips into a landing zone under enemy fire. He evacuated all wounded personnel, saving the lives of 28 Marines and a family of Iraqi nationals.
  • Lt. Col. John F. Bolt – a Marine fighter pilot who flew F-4U Corsairs during WWII and achieved Ace status with six kills of Japanese Zeros. In Korea, Bolt became (and currently remains) the only USMC jet fighter Ace by scoring six kills of Chinese MiG-15s in MiG Alley in an F-86 Sabre.

U.S. Air Force

  • DFC Recipient, Kim Campbell, A-10 Warthog pilot

    DFC Recipient, Kim Campbell, A-10 Warthog pilot

    Kim Campbell – An A-10 Warthog pilot who was awarded the DFC following a mission she flew over Baghdad in 2003. Campbell manually flew and successfully landed her injured aircraft after the A-10 was hit and all hydraulics were lost instantly.

  • Lee Andrew Archer, Jr. – One of the first African-American fighter pilots and a member of the Tuskegee Airmen. As of 2010, Archer is the only African-American to earn fighter Ace, credited with 4.5 enemy shot down.

U.S. Army

  • Bruce P. Crandall – Medal of Honor and Distinguished Flying Cross recipient for his actions during the Battle of la Drang in Vietnam, on November 14, 1965. Crandall, despite flying an unarmed helicopter, evacuated more than 70 wounded U.S. soldiers of the 7th Cavalry. Without regard for his own safety, he flew 22 missions into Landing Zone X-Ray, under intense enemy fire, providing the much needed ammunition and supplies to ensure the 7th’s survival. The 2002 movie “We Were Soldiers” starring Mel Gibson was based on this battle. Crandall’s role was played by Greg Kinnear. Crandall has received a total of four Distinguished Flying Crosses.
  • Major General George Smith Patton IV – the son of WWII General George S. Patton, Jr frequently used helicopters in Vietnam as mobile command posts and was shot down three times, earning the Distinguished Flying Cross for “extraordinary achievement while participating in aerial flight.”

U.S. Coast Guard

  • Captain Richard L. Burke – In 1933, demonstrating superior aviation skills, Burke flew through heavy fog and rain, navigating only on radio bearings, rescuing a severely injured seaman from a fishing trawler 130 miles off shore. He landed and took off in heavy swells, delivering the seaman to medical care on land and saving his life.
  • Four Coast Guard Rescue Swimmers have received the Distinguished Flying Cross – Randy Haba, Stephen T. Ludwig, Daniel Todd, and Evan Staph.
DFC Recipient, Former President George H. W. Bush

DFC Recipient, Former President George H. W. Bush

President of the United States

  • George H. W. Bush – the 41st President, as a Naval Aviator piloting a Grumman TBM Avenger during World War II, flew 58 combat missions, earning a Distinguished Flying Cross.

First in Flight

  • The Wright Brothers – in 1928, Orville and Wilbur were both awarded the Distinguished Flying Cross for their work as pioneers in aviation.


  • Alan Shepard – Naval aviator, test pilot, and astronaut, Shepard was among the candidates chosen by NASA that would be known as the Mercury 7. On May 5, 1961, he would become the second person and first American to travel into space, piloting the Freedom 7 spacecraft. He would be awarded the Distinguished Flying Cross.


  • Amelia Earhart – the first civilian awarded the DFC due to a March 1, 1927 executive order that eliminated the issuing of the DFC to civilians.
  • The last civilian awarded the DFC was Roscoe Turner, a flamboyant air racing champion.

Most DFCs

  • DFC Recipient, Academy Award Winner, Jimmy Stewart

    DFC Recipient, Academy Award Winner, Jimmy Stewart

    Gabby Gabreski (USAAC, USAAF, USAF) was the highest scoring American ace in the European Theater with 34 kills. He was one of only seven pilots to become an Ace in two different wars, World War II and Korea. He was the recipient of the Distinguished Service Cross and 13 DFCs.


  • James Stewart (USAAF, USAF) – B-24 pilot and Academy Award winning actor, he earned two DFCs in World War II for his actions while the Deputy Commander of a bomber wing. Stewart would fly more than 20 sorties.

To find a specific person who has been awarded the DFC, you may find them through a search on the Military Times, “Wall of Valor”

Military Times, “Wall of Valor”

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