The Congress of the United States established the Navy Cross on February 4, 1919. The award was originally the Navy's third highest award and was given for both combat heroism and other distinguished service. On August 7, 1942 an Act of Congress made it an award only for combat heroism and placed it above the Navy Distinguished Service Medal. The President makes the award to those while serving on any capacity with the naval service of the United States, distinguishes himself by extraordinary heroism on connection with military operations against an armed enemy. In many cases the award is posthumous.
The decoration was designed by James E. Fraser and is among the most attractively designed U.S. decoration. The cross is a very dark bronze and is charged with a caravel (a small 15th Century sailing vessel). The reverse has crossed anchors and the letters U.S.N. Additional awards are indicated by a gold star worn on the ribbon. Rare awards of the decoration have been made to members of the naval forces of allied nations.