As World War I raged, General John J. Pershing saw and heard of many examples of bravery by American forces that perhaps did not rise to the level of Medal of Honor consideration, but certainly deserved distinction. 

The US Army Distinguished Service Cross is the second highest award for heroism.
U.S. Army Distinguished Service Cross

Thus, Pershing – the Commander in Chief of the American Expeditionary Forces in France – proposed the creation of another level of recognition. President Woodrow Wilson agreed and authorized the Distinguished Service Cross. Congress approved it and the War Department made it official on January 12, 1918, or 103 years ago today. 

The Distinguished Service Cross is the United States Army’s second-highest award (the Navy and Air Force also have this medal) earned only by those who demonstrate heroism in combat against an enemy force. The same day also saw the creation of the Distinguished Service Medal, awarded to any person who “has distinguished himself or herself by exceptionally meritorious service to the Government in a duty of great responsibility in time of war or in connection with military operations against an armed enemy of the United States.” 

Pershing, among other Allied commanding officers, received one of the first Distinguished Service Medals. 

Seven Californians received both the Medal of Honor and the Distinguished Service Cross. Their names grace the Medal of Honor Hall in California’s Department of Veterans Affairs headquarters in downtown Sacramento. They are: 

Army Captain Raymond Harvey earned the Medal of Honor, the Distinguished Service Cross, and three Silver Stars in a military career that included World War II and the Korean War. Harvey, part Chickasaw Indian, later went onto work for the Bureau of Indian Affairs in Arizona.

Marine Corps gunner Henry L. Hulbert earned his Medal of Honor in 1899 during the Philippine Insurrection, a Navy Cross and Distinguished Service Cross during World War I, and became one of the first Marines to receive the Distinguished Service Cross.

Army Captain Lewis Millett received his Medal of Honor from President Truman for heroic actions during the Korean War in February 1951. He led his unit to take a hill against heavy enemy fire and in hand-to-hand combat. He received his Distinguished Service Cross for leading another bayonet charge in the same month.

The US Army Medal of Honor is the highest distinction for heroic acts.
U.S. Army Medal of Honor

Army Lieutenant Colonel Keith Ware earned his Medal of Honor while fighting in France in 1944 during World War II. He remained in the Army when the war ended, becoming one of the few draftees in history to rise to the rank of general. Major General Ware died in Cambodia in September 1968 when enemy fire downed his helicopter. Thus, he became the first U.S. Army general to die in the Vietnam War. He also became the first Medal of Honor recipient since World War I to receive the Medal of Honor in one war and then die in another. Ware received his Distinguished Service Cross posthumously, added to his Medal of Honor, Distinguished Service Medal, Bronze Star, and Purple Heart.

Army Staff Sergeant Edward Carter’s actions in Germany in 1945 certainly merited the Medal of Honor. After his tank took enemy bazooka and rifle fire, he and two others set out to cross an open field and take on the German attackers, who killed his two comrades. Carter forged ahead, suffering five bullet wounds. When eight enemy soldiers moved in to capture him, he killed six of them. Yet, instead of the Medal of Honor, he received the Distinguished Service Cross. In the late 1980s and aware that no African Americans received the Medal of Honor, the military reviewed all of the Distinguished Service Cross medals earned by Black soldiers, and elevated Carter’s to a Medal of Honor in 1992.

Army Specialist Fourth Class Jesus Duran earned a Distinguished Service Cross for his valor during the Vietnam War in 1969, for saving the lives of several wounded comrades in a firefight. Duran died in 1977. In 2002, Congress ordered a review of medal citations of Jewish and Hispanic military personnel. President Obama elevated Duran’s Distinguished Service Cross to a Medal of Honor in 2014.

Army Staff Sergeant Salvador Lara, though a Private First Class at the time, led his rifle squad to neutralize multiple enemy strongholds and inflicted large numbers of casualties in Italy in 1944. He received the Distinguished Service Cross posthumously (after his non-combat related death in September 1945), adding to the Bronze Star and Purple Heart medals. In 2014 his Distinguished Service Cross was elevated to the Medal of Honor.

CalVet is proud to honor these Californians among the bravest and most courageous defenders of the nation and the Constitution. 

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