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The DFC Medal History

The Distinguished Flying Cross was authorized by Act of Congress on July 2, 1926 (Amended by Executive Order 7786 on January 8, 1938). Unfortunately, the government did not keep a cumulative record of DFC recipients, therefore no one knows how many have been awarded or to whom. We do know that the first Distinguished Flying Cross award citations were presented to the Army Air Corps crews of the 1926-27 Pan American Goodwill Flight on 2 May, 1927 by President Coolidge, for their five ship, 22,000 mile flight.

President Coolidge presented the first Distinguished Flying Cross medal, on 11 June, 1927, to Captain Charles A. Lindbergh of the Army Corps Reserve for his solo flight of 3600 miles across the Atlantic Ocean in 1927, a feat which electrified the world and “Lindy” one of America’s most popular heroes. The first Distinguished Flying Cross awarded to a Navy man was to Commander Richard E. Byrd of the Navy Air Corps for his flight across the Atlantic in the aircraft America in June 1927, not for his exciting flight to and from the North Pole as is widely reported. Both of these famous aviators also received the Medal of Honor. The aviatrix, Amelia Earhart, was also awarded the Distinguished Flying Cross. At the time hers was the first such award to a civilian. An executive order in March 1927 ruled that the Distinguished Flying Cross should not be conferred on civilians.

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 Distinguished Flying Cross to Captain Charles A. Lindbergh in a letter dated 31 May 1927.

During wartime, members of the armed forces of friendly foreign nations serving with the United States are eligible for the Distinguished Flying Cross. It is also given to those who display heroism while working as instructors or students at flying schools.

The medal, which is identical for all branches of the service, is a bronze cross pattee. On the obverse (front) is a four-bladed propeller, one blade in each arm of the cross, and in the re-entrant angles of the cross are the rays, which form a square. The reverse (back) of the medal is suspended from a ribbon having a red center stripe, flanked on either side by a narrow white stripe, and then a white stripe with a blue stripe, and then a white stripe with a blue stripe at the edges. Subsequent awards of the Distinguished Flying Cross are indicated by the oak leaf cluster for Army and Air Force personnel and by additional award stars for all other services.

The Spirit of San Diego/St. Louis

The spirit and the money for Charles Lindbergh’s historic flight from New York to Paris may have come from St. Louis, but the expertise and the steely determination to accomplish what many experts thought was impossible came from San Diego.

In 60 days of failure-is-not-an-option frenzy 70 years ago, a financially struggling San Diego company called Ryan Airlines built what proved to be the most famous airplane the world have ever known – on a scant budget, largely without blueprints and using a tuna cannery as a factory.

San Diego’s contribution to Lindbergh’s 33½ hour flight across the Atlantic in the Spirit of St. Louis has been one of the oversights of history.

But now, with the anniversary of the flight, the San Diego Aerospace Museum in Balboa Park plans an exhibit titled “Flight of the Lone Eagle” with its full size replica of the Spirit of St. Louis in the rotunda, the museum will present a program to emphasize the flight from San Diego to St. Louis, then to Long Island and on to Paris.

San Diegans built the Spirit of St. Louis in San Diego. They took a chance on a 25-year-old barnstormer and mail delivery pilot who was audacious enough to think he could beat the most experienced and best-funded pilots in the world to win a hotelier’s prize of $25,000 by making the first nonstop flight between New York and Paris.

In his 1953 book “The Spirit of St. Louis”, Lindbergh conceded that he was shocked when he arrived in 1927 at the ‘old dilapidated’ Ryan building. “There was no flying field, no hangar, no sound of engines warming up; and the unmistakable smell of dead fish.” Lindbergh didn’t take long to realize that although the Ryan building was nothing special, the employees were something else.

The museum exhibit plans to celebrate the character and dedication of those workers who accepted Lindbergh’s challenge to build a plane in 60 days for $10,550 that could out-fly his competitor’s planes which were years in the making and cost hundreds of thousands of dollars.

In his biography of Lindbergh, Leonard Mosley notes, “By pure chance, (Lindbergh) had stumbled upon a small group of experts and dedicated designers, engineers and craftsmen.”

There was Fred Rohr, who devised the intricate fuel system that permitted the plane to fly farther than anyone dared imagine.

Donald Hall, the project’s chief engineer, who drew his first designs in the dust with a stick and whose innovations allowed the plane to take off with a fuel load greater in weight than the plane itself.

Charles ‘Old Man’ Randolph, the ex-Navy submariner who installed the periscope in the cockpit because the oversized fuel tank blocked Lindbergh’s forward view.

Douglas Corrigan, later know as ‘Wrong Way’ Corrigan for his errant attempt to emulate Lindbergh. ‘Dapper’ Dan Burnett, who worked with Corrigan to build a wing 10 feet longer than the wing used in other Ryan aircraft, providing more lift.

Hawley Bowlus, who became a pioneer in sailplanes and gliders, a later Lindbergh passion.

The high-living ever-buoyant Benjamin Franklin Mahoney, who bought the company from Claude T. Ryan and during lean times met the payroll by taking the company’s scant reserves to the Agua Caliente Casino in Tijuana and hit a lucky streak.

Of the 51 Ryan employees who worked on the Spirit of St. Louis, the only survivor is Georgia Mathias Borthwick, the company secretary, now 90, who recalls that Lindbergh was a very shy, very quite but self-confident. “He wasn’t frightened a bit. He had confidence in our airplane.” I think a lot of people wanted to meet him just in case he didn’t make it, Borthwick said. “It seems like what he was trying to do was an impossible feat for one person.” Indeed, two French competitors were lost in the Atlantic and two Americans died in the crash of a test flight. Not only was Lindbergh’s plane the least expensive, he was the only competitor to attempt the flight solo and without navigation equipment except for a compass.

Mahoney traveled to Long Island to assist with the takeoff. “Dear God”, Mahoney was quoted as saying, “I hope he makes it.”

Make it he did, and when he returned to the United States he was greeted by President Coolidge and presented with The Distinguished Flying Cross. The design was submitted by Miss Elizabeth Will and A.E. Dobois, employees of the Office of the Quartermaster General.