The medal is presented to recognize distinguished and exceptionally meritorious service to the United States while serving in a duty or position of great responsibility. The award is the Navy and Marine Corps equivalent to the Army Distinguished Service Medal, the Air Force Distinguished Service Medal, and the Coast Guard Distinguished Service Medal. The Navy Distinguished Service Medal was originally senior to the Navy Cross, until August 1942 when the precedence of the two decorations was reversed. Currently, it is worn after the Defense Distinguished Service Medal and before the Silver Star Medal.
The Navy Cross is bestowed by the Department of the Navy and may also be awarded to members of the other service branches and to foreign military personnel while serving with the Navy. The Navy Cross was established by Act of Congress (Public Law 65-253) and approved on February 4, 1919.