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Terence F. Courtney
Awarded Air Force Cross
May 12, 1972

Air Force Cross Graphic

Citation to Accompany the Award of
the Air Force Cross
Terence F. Courtney

The President of the United States of America, authorized by Section 8742, Title 10, United States Code, awards the Air Force Cross to Captain Terence F. Courtney for extraordinary heroism in military operations against an opposing armed force as an AC-119K Aircraft Commander at An Loc, Republic of Vietnam, on May 12, 1972. On that date, while supporting friendly forces under intense enemy fire, Captain Courtney's aircraft was struck in the right wing by antiaircraft artillery fire. Both right engines began to burn profusely, with flames trailing from the wing to the tail of the aircraft. Control of the aircraft had become so difficult that Captain Courtney had to use all his strength to maintain control. He wrapped his arms around the yoke to keep the aircraft's nose from pitching down. When he could no longer control the aircraft, he ordered his crew to bail out. Immediately after the last main bailed out, the aircraft crashed and burst into flames. As a result of Captain Courtney's conscious and deliberate decision to sacrifice his own life by remaining at the controls of his doomed aircraft, seven of his crew were recovered with only minor injuries. His courage, gallantry, intrepidity, and sense of responsibility toward his fellowmen overrode any desire or instinctive reaction for his own self-preservation. Through his extraordinary heroism, superb airmanship and aggressiveness in the face of the enemy, and in the dedication of his service to his country, Captain Courtney reflected the highest credit upon himself and the United States Air Force.

Air Force Cross
Award Criteria

Establishing Authority

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.

Effective Dates

The effective date of the Air Force Cross is July 6, 1960; however, awards based on earlier actions may be made after that date if the recommendations for them have not been acted on or have been lost.


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.

Order of Precedence

The Air Force Cross is worn after the Medal of Honor and before all other decorations.


Additional awards of the Air Force Cross are denoted by Oak Leaf Clusters.


The Air Force Cross was designed by Eleanor Cox and sculpted by Thomas Hudson Jones , both of the Army's Institute of Heraldry.

First Recipient

The first Air Force Cross was awarded posthumously to Major Rudolf Anderson, Jr. for service during the Cuban Missile Crisis.

Vietnam Recipients

One hundred seventy nine (179) airman were awarded the Air Force Cross during the Vietnam War

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Terry Courtney photo

Capt. Terence F. Courtney
Special Operations Squadron

Captain Courtney was the only aviator from the 71st, 17th, or 18th Special Operations Squadrons to be awarded the Air Force Cross.