The Medal of Honor is the highest award for valor in action against an enemy force which can be bestowed upon an individual serving in the Armed Services of the United States. Generally presented to its recipient by the President of the United States of America in the name of Congress, it is often called the Congressional Medal of Honor.
Authorized in 1956, the Air Force unveiled its own design for the Medal of Honor in 1965. About 50% larger than the other services' Medals of Honor, it retained the laurel wreath and oak leaves of the Army Medal which had previously been presented to members of the Army Air Service and Air Corps. It also retained the bar bearing the word "VALOR". Inside the circle of stars the helmeted profile of Minerva from the Army's medal is replaced by the head of the Statue of Liberty. Replacing the Army's eagle is the Air Force Coat of Arms.
Since the formation of a separate Air Force in 1947 there have been seventeen recipients. Prior to 1963 members of the Army Air Corps and the Air Force were awarded the Army Medal. In 1963 the Air Force acquired its own MOH design. There were thirteen recipients in Vietnam.
It is bestowed "for conspicuous gallantry and intrepidity at the risk of life, above and beyond the call of duty, in actual combat against an armed enemy force."
There were three Air Rescue and Special Operations recipients during the Vietnam War.
JAMES P. FLEMING
WILLIAM H. PITSENBARGER
GERALD O. YOUNG
The Air Force Cross was originally established by Act of Congress (Public Law 193, 65th Congress approved July 9, 1918) as the Distinguished Service Cross. Public Law 86-593, approved by Congress on July 6, 1960, amended Title 10 of the United States Code by authorizing the Air Force to present a distinctive version of the Distinguished Service Cross to Air Force recipients.
The Air Force Cross is the second highest decoration awarded by the Air Force and is given for extraordinary heroism not justifying the award of a Medal of Honor. It may be awarded to any person who, while serving in any capacity with the U.S. Air Force, distinguishes himself by extraordinary heroism (1) in action against an enemy of the United States; (2) while engaged in military operations involving conflict with an opposing foreign force; or, (3) while serving with friendly foreign forces engaged in an armed conflict against an opposing armed force in which the United States is not a belligerent party. Like the Distinguished Service Cross, the Air Force Cross is presented in the name of the President, although the Air Force itself actually controls this award.