Distinguished Flying Cross

Distinguished Flying Cross

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The Distinguished Flying Cross was awarded to officers and warrant officers for an act of valour, courage, or devotion to duty performed while flying in active operations against the enemy.

A legendary Navy pilot recounts how he earned three Distinguished Flying Crosses in a single week

In one week of that career, naval aviator Chuck Sweeney earned three Distinguished Flying Crosses, awarded for "heroism or extraordinary achievement in aerial flight," for his actions over Vietnam.

Editor&aposs Note: This article originally appeared on Business Insider.

Chuck Sweeney left the Navy as a commander in 1980, after a 22-year pilot career that included 200 combat missions, 4,334 flight hours, and 757 carrier landings.

In one week of that career, Sweeney earned three Distinguished Flying Crosses, awarded for “heroism or extraordinary achievement in aerial flight,” for his actions over Vietnam.

Sweeney, president of the national Distinguished Flying Cross Society, spoke with Insider about the unusual way he got his start as a carrier pilot, his time fighting in Vietnam, and the week he was awarded three DFCs in September 1972.

Despite his awards, “I&aposm no different than most other people,” Sweeney said in the 2017 documentary “Distinguished Wings over Vietnam.”

“I just happened to be at the right place at the wrong time.”

“I have a lot of friends who said they were interested in flying early on, and they always wanted to be a pilot,” Sweeney told Insider. “I really didn&apost. I wasn&apost against it. I just never thought about it.”

But after he was drafted in 1958, he decided to join the Navy “and see the world.”

His first assignment took him to Naval Air Station Patuxent River in Maryland as an aeronautical engineer — not exactly one of the exotic destinations Sweeney had in mind.

While at Patuxent River, Sweeney got to know some of the test pilots, who took him up on flights.

One test pilot in particular convinced Sweeney that not only did he want to fly he wanted to be the best of the best — an aircraft carrier pilot, or “tailhook.”

That test pilot was Apollo 13 astronaut Jim Lovell, portrayed by Tom Hanks in “Apollo 13.”

“I bought it — hook, line, and sinker,” Sweeney said.

Sweeney first flew the S-2E anti-submarine aircraft, then volunteered to be an attack pilot, flying the A-4 Skyhawk, while he was earning a master&aposs degree in aeronautical engineering at the Naval Postgraduate School in Monterey, California.

“They were losing a lot of pilots,” in Vietnam, Sweeney told Insider. “They were being killed or captured.”

After combat missions in Vietnam and Laos, Sweeney trained pilots in Lemoore, California. But his shore duty didn&apost last long.

In July 1972, he was sent to the USS Hancock to replace Cmdr. Frank Green, the executive officer of Attack Squadron 212, who was missing in action after his aircraft was shot down.

“The next morning, I was flying my first strike against North Vietnam,” Sweeney told Insider. “Back in those days, things were happening fast.”

During the week of September 6, 1972, Sweeney&aposs actions in combat earned him three Distinguished Flying Crosses.

Sweeney&aposs first DFC came after a high-stakes rescue in the waters just off North Vietnam.

Lt. William Pear&aposs aircraft was hit and landed in the treacherous territory, and Sweeney coordinated his rescue from the cockpit of his A-4, even as he himself was under anti-aircraft fire.

“Most of the time, if you landed over North Vietnam, 99 times out of 100, you&aposd be captured,” Sweeney said. “But we got him back and kept him out of the Hanoi Hilton.”

Pear was the last A-4 pilot to be rescued during the Vietnam War, Sweeney said in an interview for the Distinguished Flying Cross Society Oral History Collection in 2005.

Days later, Sweeney led aircraft from the Hancock in a strike and was awarded his second Distinguished Flying Cross.

“We had 35 aircraft going after a target in North Vietnam, and I was leading the whole strike,” he said.

“I had planned numerous strikes and led them in training, but this was the real thing,” Sweeney said in a 2005 oral interview in the book On Heroic Wings.

They successfully completed the strike but met frightening resistance. North Vietnamese MiGs took off and headed toward Sweeney&aposs strike group, although they eventually stood down, and the group was under heavy anti-aircraft fire.

“For doing the job that I was trained to do I was awarded my second DFC,” Sweeney said in On Heroic Wings.

Sweeney&aposs third DFC came the next day, when he led three other aircraft in an alpha strike on the outskirts of Hanoi.

On a strike that close to the North Vietnamese capital, “You knew the defenses were going to be heavier,” Sweeney said.

Sweeney and other pilots dodged North Vietnamese surface-to-air missiles (SAMs) as they headed to their target, a major railyard.

“The rule was, to avoid being hit, when [the SAM] looked like a flying telephone pole, you made this maneuver around it, kind of away from it,” Sweeney said.

“Lo and behold, this thing” — the SAM— “came up, and as it got closer, I thought &aposOh, this has Chuck Sweeney&aposs name on it.&apos”

Sweeney managed to avoid the missile but got separated from the rest of his group and caught up just as they were preparing to attack their target.

Sweeney&aposs group hit a loaded train and avoided even more anti-aircraft fire as they headed back to the USS Hancock.

The Air Medal was established by Executive Order 9158, signed by Franklin D. Roosevelt on May 11, 1942. It was awarded retroactive to September 8, 1939, to anyone who distinguishes himself by meritorious achievement while serving with the Armed Forces in aerial flight. [5] [6] [7]

The original award criteria set by an Army Policy Letter dated September 25, 1942, were for one award of the Air Medal: [8]

  • per each naval vessel or three enemy aircraft in flight confirmed destroyed. An entire aircrew would be credited for the destruction of a ship, but only the pilot or gunner responsible would be credited for destroying an enemy aircraft.
  • per 25 operational flights during which exposure to enemy fire is expected.
  • per 100 operational flights during which exposure to enemy fire is not expected.

These criteria were altered by the commanding generals of each numbered Air Force to fit the conditions of their theater of operations and to maintain morale. The Distinguished Flying Cross would usually be awarded for roughly twice to five times the requirements of the Air Medal. This led to automatic "score card" awards of the Air Medal and Distinguished Flying Cross for completing a set number of operational missions rather than distinguished service, meritorious action, or bravery, as had been intended. On August 5, 1943, such score card awards were officially abolished by a Headquarters Army Air Forces Awards Board memorandum due to the embarrassment when airmen received the Air Medal for "score carding" five missions or more but were later removed from flying duties for "lack of moral fibre". Commanders could still issue the awards on those grounds, but the recipient must perform exceptional or meritorious service as well.

Army Air Forces (1942–1947) Edit

During World War II, the medal's award criteria varied widely depending on the theater of operations, the aircraft flown, and the missions accomplished. In Europe, the airspace was considered completely controlled by the enemy and heavy air defenses were encountered, so the criteria were altered from those of the original medal. Bomber, photographic reconnaissance, or observation crewmembers and air transport pilots received it for five sorties, fighter pilots received it for ten sorties, and individual pilots or air crewmen received one award per enemy aircraft shot down. Elsewhere in the Pacific and the China Burma India Theater, the pilots and crews flew mostly over uncontrolled or contested airspace for long hours and lighter air defenses were encountered, so much higher criteria were used. Anti-submarine patrols from the United States could qualify for the medal if an airman logged 200 hours of flight time. [9]

Air Force (1947–present) Edit

The Air Medal may be awarded to recognize either single acts of merit or gallantry in combat or for meritorious service in a combat zone. Award of the Air Medal is primarily intended to recognize those personnel who are on current crew member or non-crew member flying status which requires them to participate in aerial flight on a regular and frequent basis in the performance of their primary duties. However, it may also be awarded to certain other individuals whose combat duties require regular and frequent flying in other than a passenger status, or individuals who perform a particularly noteworthy act while performing the function of a crew member but who are not on flying status. These individuals must make a discernible contribution to the operational land combat mission or to the mission of the aircraft in flight. [10]

Examples of personnel whose combat duties require them to fly include those in the attack elements of units involved in air-land assaults against an armed enemy and those directly involved in airborne command and control of combat operations. Examples would be transport performing supporting "Dustoff" Medevac or resupply operations, or aircraft involved in reconnaissance over hostile airspace. Awards will not be made to individuals who use air transportation solely for the purpose of moving from point to point in a combat zone.

The Army may award the Air Medal for peacetime service, but approval authority is by general-grade officers at the group or brigade level or higher. The Air Force does not award the Air Medal for peacetime sustained operational activities and flights. Non-combat meritorious service is instead awarded the Aerial Achievement Medal, instituted in 1988.

Ribbon devices Edit

  • The Air Force uses the aircraft sortie designation as a tool, but uses Oak Leaf Clusters rather than Strike / Flight Numerals to indicate additional awards. A member's individual flight management records will list the sorties that are eligible for the award. These sorties are designated Combat, Combat Support, or Operational (Active Air Defense or Hostile Reconnaissance). Only the first sortie of the day counts. Armed aircraft crews require ten sorties for each award, while all others require twenty sorties.
  • The United States Secretary of the Air Force approved the "V" Device for Air Medals awarded for heroism in combat effective October 21, 2004. This applies to all Air Force members (Active Duty, Air Force Reserve, Air National Guard), retirees, and veterans. The "V" device is not authorized for wear on the medal for an earlier date.

US Air Force Edit

The United States Air Force does not utilize numeral devices on the Air Medal. Subsequent awards are annotated with the traditional oak leaf clusters (or OLCs). Enlisted members are also awarded three points toward promotion per award.

Each ribbon carries a maximum of four OLCs the ribbon signifies the first award, a bronze OLC equals one additional award, and a silver OLC represents five additional awards. If there were more than four OLC devices awarded (like the 10th, 14th, 15th, 18th, 19th, and 20th awards), extra Air Medal ribbons were issued to wear the extra OLCs (although only one Air Medal was awarded). Multiple Air Medals were usually earned by aircrew with extensive flight time and long meritorious service records, like during World War II or Korea.

The award of the medal is sometimes denoted on a member's gravestone with the abbreviation "AM" followed by an ampersand and the number of oak leaf clusters or "OLC". For example, "AM&5 OLC" means Air Medal and five oak leaf clusters.

US Army Edit

Air Medal [Army] (1947–1968) Edit

The United States Army used the same criteria as the Air Force. Oak leaf clusters were awarded on the Air Medal's ribbon for additional awards – Bronze OLCs for every additional award and Silver OLCs for every five additional awards. Extra ribbons were worn to hold extra OLCs if the recipient had earned more than four OLCs.

One award was credited per every 25 hours of combat assault flights (any flight in which the aircraft was directly involved in combat), 50 hours of combat support flights (Visual Reconnaissance or Resupply), or 100 hours of non-combat service flights (Administrative or VIP flights). Flight hours were calculated in six-minute blocks.

In 1968 numerals replaced the oak leaf clusters to simplify their display.

Air Medal [Army] (1968–2006) Edit

During the Vietnam War, the US Army awarded the Air Medal to Warrant Officer or Commissioned pilots and enlisted aircrew for actual flight time (awards were also made to infantry troops who flew on combat assault missions). This became a bureaucratic nightmare to correctly log because of the short flight time of typical helicopter flights. Later, an equivalent "flight hours" conversion was created and an award standard was set by individual commands. This eventually was standardized in theater to one award per every 24 "flight hours" logged. [11] A simplified set time was awarded depending on the type of mission, regardless of the actual flight time. [11] Administrative or VIP flights counted for a quarter hour, regular duties (such as Visual Reconnaissance or Resupply) counted for a half hour, and hazardous duties (combat assaults or extractions) counted for one hour. Pilots and aircrew could log over 1,000 "flight hours" a year and earn a 40 or higher numeral on their Air Medal ribbon.

The "score card" system was retained after the war. This was changed on December 11, 2006, to an award for every six months of meritorious service instead of the number of flight hours.

Air Medal [Army] (2006–present) Edit

Currently (as per AR 600-8-22 [December 11, 2006]) [12] the medal can be awarded for every six months of meritorious service. The recipient must perform flight-related duties while serving in a combat zone. The number of flight hours logged is no longer a criterion. The soldier must be assigned as air crew with flight status (i.e., as a pilot, navigator, or gunner). Soldiers without flight status can be eligible if they help with an aerial attack during general transport (e.g., as a door gunner), serve as a combat controller (e.g., as a Pathfinder or Forward Air Controller) or the combat commander of an air or land operation at the Group or Brigade level or lower. Soldiers being transported by air as passengers are not eligible for the meritorious service award, but they may be eligible for the gallantry award.

Ribbon devices Edit

  • Subsequent awards of the Air Medal are denoted in the U.S. Army by Numeral devices displayed on the medal and ribbon. The Army originally used oak leaf clusters to signify additional awards. However, this was changed to numeral devices in September 1968, during the Vietnam War, when the number of Air Medals awarded became too large to be annotated on a single ribbon.
  • Since February 29, 1964, the medal may be awarded with a "V" Device for an act of heroism against an armed enemy less than the criteria for the Distinguished Flying Cross.

US Navy/US Marine Corps Edit

The United States Navy and United States Marine Corps have two types of Air Medal awards: "Individual" for singular meritorious acts and "Strike/Flight" for participation in sustained aerial flight operations.

Ribbon devices Edit

  • As of September 27, 2006, gold Numeral devices are used to denote the number of "Individual" Air Medals. (This is a return to the standard used before November 22, 1989.)
  • Bronze Strike/Flight numerals denote the total number of Strike/Flight awards. Sorties are missions or sustained operations involving aircraft, like: delivering ordnance against the enemy, landing or evacuating personnel in an assault, or in which personnel are engaged in search and rescue operations. Strikes are combat sorties that encounter enemy opposition. Flights are combat sorties that do not encounter enemy opposition.

Officers of Captain (USN) or Colonel (USMC) rank and above are not eligible for award of the Air Medal on a Strike/Flight basis unless the sorties they fly are required in the performance of their regular duties.

  • Since April 5, 1974, the Combat "V" may be authorized for awards for heroism or meritorious action in conflict with an armed enemy.

Ribbon devices (1989–2006) Edit

Bronze Strike/Flight numerals denoted the number of Strike/Flight awards. They are authorized for operations in hostile or disputed territory and count the total number of Strikes (operations that faced enemy opposition) and Flights (operations that did not encounter enemy opposition) added together.

US Coast Guard Edit

The Commandant of the United States Coast Guard may award the Air Medal to any person in the Armed Forces of the United States who distinguishes themselves by heroic or meritorious achievement while participating in aerial flight. [13]

The Coast Guard awards the "Individual" Air Medal but not the Strike/Flight Award.

Ribbon devices Edit

  • Gold and silver
  • 5 ⁄ 16 inch stars are authorized for wear to denote additional Air Medal awards. The gold star denotes the second through fifth awards of the Air Medal. may be authorized for wear if the award is for performance of a heroic act or acts while directly performing in conflict or combat with an armed enemy. [13]

Civil Air Patrol Edit

During World War II, the Air Medal was also awarded to members of the Civil Air Patrol who participated in the CAP's anti-submarine patrol program. [14] This was not made public at the time, since the Federal government did not want to admit it was arming civilian aircraft.

The medal's design is prescribed by law.

  1. 1 ⁄ 8 inch Ultramarine Blue 67118
  2. ¼ inch Golden Orange 67109
  3. center
  4. 5 ⁄ 8 inch Ultramarine Blue
  5. ¼ inch Golden Orange and
  6. 1 ⁄ 8 inch Ultramarine Blue.

Components: The following are authorized components of the Air Medal and the applicable specifications for each:

  • a. Decoration (regular size): MIL-D-3943/23. NSN for decoration set is 8455-00-269-5747. For replacement medal NSN 8455-00-246-3837.
  • b. Decoration (miniature size): MIL-D-3943/23. NSN 8455-00-996-5002.
  • c. Ribbon: MIL-R-11589/7. NSN 8455-00-252-9963.
  • d. Lapel Button: MIL-L-11484/17. NSN 8455-00-257-4308.

Designer: Walker Hancock. Hancock had competed for the medal design as a civilian, but prior to the award of the competition had been inducted into the army. [5]

Whether you are a DFC recipient or just browsing to learn more about our rich history, we hope you enjoy our site.

The Distinguished Flying Cross (DFC) is our nation’s highest award for extraordinary aerial achievement. As a valor decoration, it ranks fourth in order of precedence, and is awarded to recipients for heroism while participating in an aerial flight. The Distinguished Flying Cross medal was established by an Act of Congress on July 2, 1926 and the first Distinguished Flying Cross citations were presented to the Pan American Good Will Flight pilots on 2 May 1927 by President Calvin Coolidge. President Coolidge also presented the first Distinguished Flying Cross medal, on 11 June 1927, to then Captain Charles A. Lindbergh of the Army Air Corps Reserve, for his solo flight of 33 ½ hours and 3600 statute miles.

The Distinguished Flying Cross Society (DFCS) itself was founded in 1994, as a 501(c) (19) nonprofit war veterans’ organization, headquartered in San Diego, CA, and is made up of those men and women who were awarded the Distinguished Flying Cross. The Society currently has more than 7,000 members and was founded on the fraternity and fellowship among military fliers. All the DFCS recipient members are listed in perpetuity on our “Honor Roll”. Lindbergh, the ‘Lone Eagle’, as a legacy member of The DFCS is also there.

We host biennial Reunions at convenient locations, of interest to DFCS members and their significant others, throughout the nation. These three-day events build on the spirit of camaraderie among peers, provide a stimulating program of interest to all, and allow for learning about the deeds of fellow aviators. Our most recent Reunion was September15-19, 2019 in Dayton, Ohio with the theme “Celebrating 100 Years of American Air Power. It was the best Reunion ever and I was pleased to see many of our members and their families enjoying the camaraderie of old and new friends.

DFCS Chapters are located around the country offering new friendships, stimulating events and programs, and the benefit of shared experiences.

At the national level, we provide the overall organizational umbrella for our membership and the chapters. We published On Heroic Wings: Stories of the Distinguished Flying Cross”, with the Foreword written by President George H. W. Bush and the Introduction written by Captain Jim Lovell both recipients and members. The book is based on oral history accounts, Distinguished Flying Cross citations and other associated primary source documentation. The book is available on this website (and on Amazon) for everyone while other DFCS memorabilia is available to DFCS members. [Read BIO - click HERE]

Seeking Distinguished Flying Cross with Clusters & Air Medal for Sgt Joseph D Heleman

Seeking information on medals assigned to my great uncle Sgt. Joseph D Heleman from Abilene, Taylor County, Texas during WWII with the Army Air Corps. He received the Air Medal as well as Distinguished Flying Cross with Clusters. He was a top gunner on a B-24 and I know he was based in Italy for part of his assignments. I have his Air Medal. But, I know nothing more about the history of it being awarded, when, etc. Unable to locate anything online beyond newspaper articles that states he was awarded those medals. He died with his brother while both were on furlough in a motorcycle accident in Taylor County, Texas to visit their mother. Appreciate it.

Re: Seeking Distinguished Flying Cross with Clusters & Air Medal for Sgt Joseph D Heleman

The DFC typically did not give a narrative like a silver star or bronze star. Typically all that was shown for a narrative was showing the the unit or group flew certain amount of missions within enemy territory. However was able to fins his award card for all the Air Medals. Please see below, if you request his full military file you may find something within his file more substantial relating to the DFC. You may want to try reaching out to the 15th AF WWII group organization. They sometimes have historians that may offer some assistance.

Re: Seeking Distinguished Flying Cross with Clusters & Air Medal for Sgt Joseph D Heleman

Thank you so much, Mr. Schneider! This is more than I expected. I'll also reach out to the organization you referenced. Much obliged.

Re: Seeking Distinguished Flying Cross with Clusters & Air Medal for Sgt Joseph D Heleman
Jason Atkinson 14.07.2020 9:38 (в ответ на Don Hill)

Thank you for posting your request on History Hub!

We searched the National Archives Catalog and located Award Cards, 1942 - 1963 in the Records of the National Archives and Records Administration (Record Group 64). Based on the arrangement of the records, a Distinguished Flying Cross card for a person with the last name of Heleman should be in the file unit Air Force Award Cards [Distinguished Flying Cross]: Heil, Charles - Hesson, Charles that has been digitized and is available online. But we were unable to locate an image of such a card for your great uncle. It may be that the newspaper article you located was mistaken, or it may be that the US Army Air Force inadvertently failed to create a card or that the card was misplaced sometime prior to the records being scanned.

Therefore, we suggest that you request a copy of his Official Military Personnel File (OMPF). OMPFs and individual medical reports for enlisted men of the U.S. Army (to include US Army Air Corps) who were separated from the service after October 1912 and prior to 1958 are in the custody of NARA's National Personnel Records Center in St. Louis. In many cases where personnel records were destroyed in the 1973 fire , proof of service can be provided from other records such as morning reports, payrolls, and military orders, and a certificate of military service will be issued. Please complete a GSA Standard Form 180 and mail it to NARA's National Personnel Records Center, (Military Personnel Records), 1 Archives Drive, St. Louis, MO  63138-1002. For more information see Official Military Personnel Files (OMPF), Archival Records Requests .

Also, the U.S. Air Force (to include US Army Air Corps) Individual Deceased Personnel Files (IDPFs) from 1940-1973 are in the custody of the National Archives at St. Louis, ATTN: RL-SL, P.O. Box 38757, St. Louis, MO 63138-1002. IDPFs were unaffected by the 1973 fire. Please contact RL-SL via email at [email protected] for information about these records.

The National Archives at College Park - Textual Reference (RDT2) has custody of microfilm copies of operational records relating to U.S. Army Air Force units.  We searched the Air Force History Index to the microfilm and located 35 records of the 15th Air Force that include general orders from 1944 and possibly the citation for your great uncle’s Air Medals and Oak Leaf Clusters for the Air Medal. Please read the brief Abstract to determine which records you are interested in and click on the specific PDF icon. In the PDF listing, the IRISREF is the microfilm reel number and note the FRAME and FRAMELST numbers for the location on the reel. Please contact RDT2 via email at [email protected] and provide that  information.

Due to the COVID-19 pandemic and pursuant to guidance received from the Office of Management and Budget (OMB), NARA has adjusted its normal operations to balance the need of completing its mission-critical work while also adhering to the recommended social distancing for the safety of NARA staff. As a result of this re-prioritization of activities, you may experience a delay in receiving an initial acknowledgement as well as a substantive response to your reference request from RL-SL & RDT2. Also, the National Personnel Records Center is servicing only urgent requests related to homeless veterans, medical emergencies, and funerals which may be faxed to 314-801-0764.  We thank you for your patience and look forward to resuming normal operations when the public health emergency has ended.

We hope this is helpful. Best of luck with your family research!

Re: Seeking Distinguished Flying Cross with Clusters & Air Medal for Sgt Joseph D Heleman

Thank you, Mr. Atkinson. I sent the GSA Standard Form 180 and mailed it to NARA's National Personnel Records Center last week. My father said he has seen the medal while visiting his grandmother who had it in her possession when she was still alive during his youth. However, that generation doesn't seem to know what happened to the medal and who may have inherited it or if still in possession. I'm only interested in learning more and getting a card documentation or other for genealogical purposes. I appreciate the tips. If Form 180 doesn't pan out, I'll try the other avenues as well. Much obliged!

The International Group for Historic Aircraft Recovery (TIGHAR) postulates that Earhart and Noonan veered off-course from Howland Island and landed instead some 350 miles to the Southwest on Gardner Island, now called Nikumaroro, in the Republic of Kiribati. The island was uninhabited at the time.

A week after Earhart’s disappeared, Navy planes flew over the island. They noted recent signs of habitation but found no evidence of an airplane.

TIGHAR believes that Earhart𠅊nd perhaps Noonan—may have survived for days or even weeks on the island as castaways before dying there. Since 1988, several TIGHAR expeditions to the island have turned up artifacts and anecdotal evidence in support of this hypothesis.

Some of the artifacts include a piece of Plexiglas that may have come from the Electra’s window, a woman’s shoe dating back to the 1930s, improvised tools, a woman’s cosmetics jar from the 1930s and bones that appeared to be part of a human finger.

Lindbergh Honored

On June 11, 1927, Charles Lindbergh received the first Distinguished Flying Cross ever awarded. Since 1927, aviators honored with this medal have included World War II pilots President George H. W. Bush, Senator George McGovern, and astronaut Virgil “Gus” Grissom, who flew one hundred missions during the Korean War.

Charles Lindbergh on podium on Washington Monument grounds during his Wash., D.C. reception…. June 11, 1927. National Photo Company Collection. Prints & Photographs Division

Lindbergh’s nonstop solo flight across the Atlantic on May 20-21, 1927, made aeronautical history. The stunt-flyer-turned-airmail-pilot’s flight was underwritten by a group of St. Louis businessmen. Flying his monoplane, Spirit of St. Louis, Lindbergh captured the $25,000 prize offered for the first flight between New York and Paris.

“Lucky Lindy’s” arrival in Paris after thirty-three-and-one-half hours in the air was celebrated on both sides of the Atlantic. At the award ceremony in Washington, D.C., President Calvin Coolidge remarked:

On a morning just three weeks ago yesterday, this wholesome, earnest, fearless, courageous product of America rose into the air from Long Island in a monoplane christened “The Spirit of St. Louis” in honor of his home and that of his supporters. It was no haphazard adventure. After months of most careful preparation, supported by a valiant character, driven by an unconquerable will and inspired by the imagination and the spirit of his Viking ancestors, this reserve officer set wing across the dangerous stretches of the North Atlantic. He was alone. His destination was Paris. Thirty-three hours and thirty minutes later, in the evening of the second day, he landed at his destination on the French flying field at Le Bourget. He had traveled over 3,600 miles and established a new and remarkable record. The execution of his project was a perfect exhibition of art.

Calvin Coolidge. “Address…Bestowing Upon Colonel Charles A. Lindbergh the Distinguished Flying Cross,” Washington, D.C., June 11, 1927. [Washington, D.C.: U.S. Government Printing Office: 1927]. Prosperity and Thrift: The Coolidge Era and the Consumer Economy, 1921-1929

Smithsonian Institution Building. Spirit of St. Louis exhibit… Theodor Horydczak, photographer, ca. 1920-ca.1950. Horydczak Collection. Prints & Photographs Division Col. Linbergh[sic] with His Mother and President and Mrs. Calvin Coolidge… [Washington, D.C.] June 12, 1927. National Photo Company Collection. Prints & Photographs Division

Coolidge went on to commend Lindbergh’s “absence of self-acclaim, [his] refusal to become commercialized, which has marked the conduct of this sincere and genuine exemplar of fine and noble virtues.”

From Washington, Lindbergh traveled to New York City where he was honored with a ticker tape parade. Over the next several months Lindbergh and the Spirit of St. Louis visited eighty-two cities in forty-eight states. Hailed as a national hero, Lindbergh became an influential spokesperson for the emerging aviation industry.

Following his record-breaking flight, Lindbergh married Anne Spencer Morrow in 1929 she became a well-known author. Their life together was marked in its early years by the avid attention of the public and the press and by the notorious kidnapping and murder of their son, Charles Augustus Jr. in 1932.

Later in his life, Lindbergh was a consultant to commercial airline companies and became a wildlife conservationist. He worked for both the U.S. Department of Defense and the National Advisory Committee for Aeronautics. His Pulitzer Prize-winning book, The Spirit of St. Louis (1953), describes his historic flight. Charles Lindbergh died on August 26, 1974. Lindbergh Day, Springfield, Vt., July 26, 1927. Hayes Bigelow, cAugust 1, 1927. Panoramic Photographs. Prints & Photographs Division


The son of lawyer Sydney Balmer and his wife Catherine ("Kittie"), John Balmer was born in Bendigo, Victoria, on 3 July 1910. [1] [2] He attended Scotch College before studying law at the University of Melbourne, [1] [3] where he was a resident of Trinity College, and rowed in the Second Eight. [4] In December 1932, he enlisted as an air cadet in the RAAF active reserve, known as the Citizen Air Force (CAF). [1] [5] Nicknamed "Sam", Balmer undertook flying instruction on the 1933 "B" (reservists) course conducted at RAAF Station Point Cook, Victoria, where his classmates included future group captain John Lerew. [6] Balmer qualified as a pilot and was commissioned in April 1933. [1] His first posting was to No. 1 Squadron, flying Westland Wapitis [7] he transferred from the CAF to the Permanent Air Force in November. [1]

Promoted to flight lieutenant, from July 1935 to November 1937 Balmer was assigned to No. 1 Flying Training School, Point Cook, as an instructor. He gained a reputation as a hard taskmaster, and on one occasion—according to RAAF folklore—parachuted from a training aircraft to give his student the proper motivation to make a solo landing, though at least one newspaper at the time reported that he had in fact fallen out. [1] [8] On 15 August 1938, Balmer was forced to crash land an Avro Anson near Whitfield, Victoria, after its wings iced up—one of a series of accidents that befell the type following its introduction to Australian service. [9] By mid-1939 he was instructing on Hawker Demon biplane fighters with No. 3 Squadron at RAAF Station Richmond, New South Wales. [10]

Parallel to his Air Force career, in the years leading up to the outbreak of World War II Balmer gained national attention as a long-distance motorist. Partnered by a fellow officer, he set a cross-country record of 65 hours and 10 minutes travelling from Perth, Western Australia, to Melbourne in December 1936. He and another driver followed this up with a record-breaking round-Australia journey in October–November 1938, completing their run in 23½ days, almost halving the previous best time. [1] [3]

South West Pacific Edit

When Australia declared war in September 1939, Flight Lieutenant Balmer was a member of No. 22 Squadron, which conducted coastal surveillance out of Richmond with Ansons and, later, CAC Wirraways. [7] [11] Promoted to squadron leader, he was posted to RAAF Station Darwin, Northern Territory, on 1 June 1940, becoming the inaugural commander of No. 13 Squadron, which had been "cannibalised" from the base's resident unit, No. 12 Squadron. Retaining its Wirraway flight, No. 12 Squadron gave up its two flights of Ansons to the new formation these were replaced later that month by more capable Lockheed Hudsons. [12] [13] From August 1940 until February 1941, No. 13 Squadron was responsible for patrolling the sea lanes off Australia's north coast. [14] On occasion, Balmer detected Japanese luggers that were illegally fishing in Australian waters and, according to Mark Johnston, overflew them at such a low altitude that "his Hudson's slipstream rocked the boats violently" and the crew "shook their fists" at him. [15] He was promoted to temporary wing commander in April. [1] The following month, No. 13 Squadron conducted familiarisation flights over the Dutch East Indies. [16] Balmer handed over command of the unit in August, and transferred to a liaison post at Headquarters RAAF Station Darwin. [16] [17]

In January 1942, Balmer briefly took charge of No. 7 Squadron, flying Hudsons on maritime patrol and convoy escort duties from RAAF Station Laverton, Victoria. [18] Two months later he assumed command of the first RAAF unit to operate Australian-built Bristol Beauforts, No. 100 Squadron. [12] [19] It was formed at Richmond using the number of a Royal Air Force (RAF) squadron that had been decimated in the Malayan Campaign. [19] [20] In tribute to its original incarnation, Balmer adopted the RAF unit's crest, which featured a skull-and-crossbones emblem and the motto Sarang Tebuan Jangan Dijolok (Malay for "Do not stir up a hornet's nest"). [21] No. 100 Squadron transferred to Mareeba in Far North Queensland on 22 May, after Balmer decided that a proposed base at Cairns was unsuitable owing to periodic flooding. [22] While his crews at Mareeba gained experience on maritime patrols, he travelled to Port Moresby, New Guinea, on 26 May to test the Beaufort in operational conditions as he came in to land he was fired upon by US anti-aircraft batteries, whose gunners had "never seen a Goddamn aircraft like that before", but escaped damage. [23]

Balmer was appointed an Officer of the Order of the British Empire in the King's Birthday Honours on 11 June 1942. [24] On 25 June he took five of No. 100 Squadron's Beauforts to Port Moresby, joining two other Beauforts that were already stationed there. [25] That night he led five aircraft from his squadron on their first bombing mission, against a Japanese ship reported in the Huon Gulf near Lae. Despite finding his bomb release gear faulty, necessitating three low-level attack runs in the face of increasingly heavy anti-aircraft fire, Balmer managed to score two hits, while his companions also successfully bombed the vessel. The ship appeared to be on fire and sinking, and the squadron received credit for its destruction at the time, but later investigation could not confirm its loss. [19] The unit withdrew to Laverton for training and patrol work during July and August, before moving to Milne Bay to again take part in the New Guinea campaign. [26] On 7 September 1942, Balmer commanded a combined force of P-40 Kittyhawks from Nos. 75 and 76 Squadrons, Bristol Beaufighters from No. 30 Squadron, Hudsons from No. 6 Squadron, and his own No. 100 Squadron Beauforts in an assault on Japanese shipping near Milne Bay. It was the first time the Beauforts had been armed with torpedoes in combat, and they failed to score any hits. [27]

Beginning in October 1942, Nos. 6 and 100 Squadrons were given what the official history of the RAAF in World War II called the "huge task" of keeping open the sea lanes between Australia and New Guinea, while disrupting as best they could Japanese lines of communication and supply. The units kept up a punishing schedule of daily long-range reconnaissance and anti-submarine patrols, according to the official history, "practically without navigation aids, frequently through rain storms and heavy cloud" but, "supported by ground staffs as enduring as themselves, the crews maintained an almost inflexibly high standard and achieved considerable success". [28] On the night of 4/5 October, Balmer took ten of his Beauforts from Milne Bay on a far-ranging assault against Japanese ships in the vicinity of the Shortland Islands, near Bougainville. Two aircraft disappeared along the way in storms and the remainder became separated into two flights that nevertheless managed to rendezvous near the target. Seven of these launched their torpedoes against as many ships and the crews believed that four were accurate, but were unable to confirm any hits because of dwindling visibility. The 950-nautical-mile (1,760 km) mission was considered a failure but this was put down to problems with the torpedoes and not the aircrew. [28] Subsequent reports suggested that three ships had in fact been damaged. [26]

Balmer came down with malaria in November 1942, and went on three weeks sick leave the following month he returned to operations on 2 January 1943. [29] In March, during the Battle of the Bismarck Sea, No. 100 Squadron launched its last torpedo attack bad weather prevented all but two aircraft finding their targets, and no hits were registered. Towards the end of the month the unit dropped 17,000 pounds (7,700 kg) of bombs on Japanese installations in Salamaua. [26] [30]

Europe Edit

Balmer relinquished command of No. 100 Squadron in April 1943, and was posted from the South West Pacific to the European theatre that June. [1] [26] His planned secondment to the RAF was for two years. [31] Partly in an effort to bolster Australian aspirations to form a distinct RAAF group within RAF Bomber Command, in August he was appointed commanding officer of No. 467 Squadron, based at RAF Bottesford, Leicestershire. The squadron had been raised under Article XV of the Empire Air Training Scheme, and operated Avro Lancaster heavy bombers. [32] [33] Balmer led his unit in a costly raid on Nuremberg the night of 27/28 August, before attacking Hanover in September and October. [1] From its new base at RAF Waddington, Lincolnshire, Balmer then took No. 467 Squadron through the Battle of Berlin that commenced in November 1943 and continued until March 1944. [33] The statistical likelihood of surviving an operational tour of 30 missions in Bomber Command was never more than 50 per cent, and during the Battle of Berlin, loss rates were far higher. [34] No. 467 Squadron was the only Australian unit to take part in all sixteen heavy attacks against the German capital during the battle. [35] In the same period it also raided Frankfurt, Leipzig, Stettin, Stuttgart, Essen, and Augsburg. [36]

Following the Battle of Berlin, No. 467 Squadron began to concentrate on targets in France and Belgium as the Allied air campaign shifted focus from strategic bombing to destroying airfields and disrupting lines of communication prior to the invasion of the continent. On the night of 10/11 April, Balmer led not only his own unit but a total of 148 aircraft of No. 5 Group RAF in an assault on Toulouse, striking at an airfield, and aircraft and explosives factories. The bombing was highly accurate, and the Australians suffered no losses on the raid. [1] [37]

Considered a "dynamic" leader and a "brilliant" pilot, [1] [10] Balmer was decorated with the Distinguished Flying Cross (DFC) for "great skill and devotion to duty" during "a varied tour of operations" promulgated in the London Gazette on 18 April, the award citation further described him as "a most efficient squadron commander, whose keenness and zeal have set a fine example". [38] He also earned the respect of his crews with displays of empathy such as the occasion one of his young pilots, who had flown on 15 missions, refused to take off on his next sortie. Rather than take disciplinary action, Balmer allowed the man medical leave and sought out respite for him in the country, after which the pilot returned to active duty and completed his tour of operations. [7] From early April, No. 467 Squadron began playing a leading role in a series of attacks against railways, which continued into the following month. [39]

Balmer was promoted to temporary group captain on 4 May 1944. [1] On 10/11 May, his Lancasters took part in a raid on Lille, losing three of their number. In an effort to shore up the morale of his younger crews, Balmer decided to personally lead their next mission the following night, against a military camp at Bourg-Léopold (Leopoldsburg), Belgium. It was planned to be his last operation before going on to a more senior position. His aircraft failed to return from the raid, causing considerable shock to his unit. The next day, Balmer's place as commanding officer of No. 467 Squadron was taken by Wing Commander William Brill, previously a member of No. 463 Squadron RAAF, which was also based at Waddington. [40]

Initially posted as missing, Balmer and his crew were later confirmed to have died when their Lancaster crashed near Herenthout in provincial Antwerp after being attacked by a night fighter. Balmer was buried in Heverlee War Cemetery, outside Brussels. [41] The Daily Mail reported that he had accumulated almost 5,000 flying hours, and compared his place in the RAAF to that of Leonard Cheshire's in the RAF. [7] Aged 33, Balmer was unmarried at his death. [1] His DFC was presented to his mother Kittie by the Governor-General of Australia shortly after the end of the war. [2] Balmer's name appears at panel 110 of the Commemorative Area at the Australian War Memorial, Canberra. [2] [42]

Distinguished Flying Cross

1. Description: A bronze cross patee on which is superimposed a four-bladed propeller, 1 11/16 inches in width. Five rays extended from the reentrant angles, forming a one-inch square. The medal is suspended from a rectangular shaped bar.

2. Ribbon: The ribbon is 1 3/8 inches wide and consists of the following stripes: 3/32 inch Ultramarine Blue 67118 9/64 inch White 67101 11/32 inch Ultramarine Blue 67118 3/64 inch White 67101 center stripe 3/32 inch Old Glory Red 67156 3/64 inch White 67101 11/32 inch Ultramarine Blue 67118 9/64 inch White 67101 3/32 inch Ultramarine Blue 67118.

3. Criteria: The Distinguished Flying Cross is awarded to any person who, while serving in any capacity with the Armed Forces of the United States, distinguishes himself by heroism or extraordinary achievement while participating in aerial flight. The performance of the act of heroism must be evidenced by voluntary action above and beyond the call of duty. The extraordinary achievement must have resulted in an accomplishment so exceptional and outstanding as to clearly set the individual apart from his comrades or from other persons in similar circumstances. Awards will be made only to recognize single acts of heroism or extraordinary achievement and will not be made in recognition of sustained operational activities against an armed enemy.

4. Components: The following are authorized components of the Distinguished Flying Cross:

a. Decoration (regular size): MIL-D-3943/15. NSN 8455-00-269-5748 for decoration set. NSN 8455-00-246-3826 for individual replacement medal.

b. Decoration (miniature size): MIL-D-3943/15. NSN 8455-00-996-5006.

c. Ribbon: MIL-R-11589/47. NSN 8455-00-252-9967.

d. Lapel Button (metal replica of ribbon): MIL-L-11484/11. NSN 8455-00-253-0807.

5. Background: a. The Distinguished Flying Cross was established in the Air Corps Act (Act of Congress, 2 July 1926, Public Law No. 446, 69 th Congress). This act provided for award "to any person, while serving in any capacity with the Air Corps of the Army of the United States, including the National Guard and the Organized Reserves, or with the United States Navy, since the 6 th day of April 1917, has distinguished, or who, after the approval of this Act, distinguishes himself by heroism or extraordinary achievement while participating in an aerial flight."

b. Various designs from the U.S. Mint, commercial artists, and the Office of the Quartermaster General, were submitted to the Commission of Fine Arts and on 31 May 1927. The Commission approved a design submitted by Mr. Arthur E. Dubois and Miss Elizabeth Will.

c. Initial awards of the Distinguished Flying Cross were made to persons who made record breaking long distance and endurance flights and who set altitude records. The Secretary of War authorized the first Distinguished Flying Cross to Captain Charles A. Lindbergh in a letter dated 31 May 1927. With the support of the Secretary of War, the Wright Brothers retroactively received the Distinguished Flying Cross. This award required a special Act of Congress, since the law precluded award to civilians.

d. The current statutory requirements for award of the Distinguished Flying Cross to Army personnel is contained in Title 10, U.S.C., Section 3749 Section 6245 for Navy personnel and Section 8749 for Air Force personnel. Enlisted personnel may be entitled to a 10% increase in retired pay under Title 10, U.S.C., Section 3991, when credited with heroism equivalent to that required for the award of the Distinguished Service Cross.

e. Order of precedence and wear of decorations is contained in Army Regulation 670-1. Policy for awards, approving authority, supply, and issue of decorations is contained in Army Regulation 600-8-22.


The medal was established on 3 June 1918. It was the other ranks' equivalent to the Distinguished Flying Cross, which was awarded to commissioned officers and Warrant Officers, although the latter could also be awarded the DFM. The decoration ranked below the DFC in order of precedence, between the Military Medal and the Air Force Medal. Recipients of the Distinguished Flying Medal are entitled to use the post-nominal letters "DFM". [3]

Although announced in the London Gazette on 3 June 1918, [4] the actual Royal Warrants were not published in the London Gazette until 5 December 1919. [5]

In 1979 eligibility for a number of British awards, including the DFM, was extended to permit posthumous awards. [6] Until that time, only the Victoria Cross and a mention in dispatches could be awarded posthumously.

In 1993, the DFM was discontinued, as part of the review of the British honours system, which recommended removing distinctions of rank in respect of awards for bravery. Since then, the Distinguished Flying Cross, previously only open to Commissioned and Warrant Officers, can be awarded to personnel of all ranks. [2]

The DFM had also been awarded by Commonwealth countries but by the 1990s most, including Canada, Australia and New Zealand, had established their own honours systems and no longer recommended British honours. [7]

There were two categories of award, either "Immediate" or "Non-Immediate".

An "Immediate" award was one which was recommended by a senior officer, usually in respect of an act or acts of bravery or devotion to duty deemed to command immediate recognition. In such circumstances, the recommendation for the award was passed as quickly as possible through the laid down channels to obtain approval by the AOC-in-C of the appropriate Command to whom, from 1939, the power to grant immediate awards was designated by King George VI. [8]

An example of an "Immediate" award is that to Leslie Marsh, which was published in the London Gazette on 15 February 1944. [9]

  • 1482444 Sergeant Leslie MARSH, Royal Air Force Volunteer Reserve, No. 103 Squadron. "This airman was the mid-upper gunner of an aircraft detailed to attack Mannheim one night in September, 1943. When nearing the target area the aircraft was hit by machine gun fire from a fighter. The rear gunner was killed and Sergeant Marsh was wounded in the legs. Although in great pain Sergeant Marsh remained at his post. Coolly withholding his fire until the attacker came into close range he then delivered an accurate burst which caused the enemy aircraft to break away later it was seen to be on fire. On two occasions, more recently, his cool and determined work has played a good part in the success of the sortie. Sergeant Marsh is a model of efficiency and his example of courage and resolution has earned great praise."

"Non-Immediate" awards were made by the Monarch on the recommendation of the Air Ministry and were to reward devotion to duty sustained over a period of time. This category of award could be made at any time during an operational tour but, in a large number of instances, the award was given to recognise the successful completion of a full tour of operational flying. [10]

Between 1918 and 1993 a total of 6,967 medals, 64 second award bars and one third award bar were awarded. Over 95% of these awards were for service during the Second World War.

During the First World War, 104 Distinguished Flying Medals and two second award bars were awarded to British and Commonwealth servicemen, [11] with a further four honorary awards to foreign combatants, three Belgians and one French airman. [12] [13]

The first awards of the medal appeared in the London Gazette of 3 June 1918, where two recipients are listed. [14]

  • F/9689 Acting Air Mechanic W./T. Albert Edward Clark (of Woodford).
  • 113763 Serjeant John Charles Hagan (of Ulverston)

The first award of a bar to the Distinguished Flying Medal was announced in the London Gazette on 3 December 1918. It was awarded to Sergeant observer Arthur Newland, DFM who had been awarded the DFM on 21 September 1918. [15]

In the period between the World Wars, 41 awards of the DFM were made between 1920–29 and a further 39 between 1930–39, along with two second award bars. [3]

During the Second World War, a total of 6,637 DFMs were awarded, with 60 second award bars. [16] A unique second bar, representing a third award, was awarded to Flight Sergeant Donald Ernest Kingaby on 7 November 1941. [17]

At least 170 Honorary DFM's and 2 Honorary bars (one of them to Josef Frantisek) were awarded to aircrew from non-Commonwealth countries. 39 were awarded to servicemen of the US, 66 Polish plus one bar, 33 French, 14 Czechoslovakian plus one bar, 7 Dutch, 6 Norwegian, 4 Russian and one Belgian. [18]

142 DFMs were earned between 1946 and 1993 when the award was discontinued. [19]

The DFM is an oval silver medal, 35 mm wide and with a height of 41 mm, with the following design: [3]

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