Legion of Merit
On July 20, 1942, an Act of Congress created the Legion of Merit as one of only six special military medals issued as a “Neck Order” which could be given to U.S. military personnel as well as foreign military personnel and dignitaries. These medals of America were to be awarded to U.S. military persons in a single degree, while foreign persons could receive these military ribbons and medals in one of four degrees:
1. Chief Commander – awarded by Presidential decree to a Chief of State or Head of Government. President Roosevelt bestowed this highest degree decoration on some Allied WWII commanders as well.
2. Commander – awarded to foreign military Chief of Staff equivalents, but not political personages.
3. Officer – awarded to foreign Generals or Flag Officer equivalents below Chief of Staff, and to military attaches.
4. Legionnaire – awarded to foreign recipients not included in the above categories.
President Franklin Roosevelt issued an Executive Order on October 29, 1942 that created the rules for awarding the Legion of Merit, and requiring presidential approval for bestowing these US military medals. Approval for these military medals was granted to the War Department in 1943, at the request of General George Marshall. President Dwight Eisenhower issued an Executive Order on March 15, 1955, that revised approval authority to the current provisions contained in Title 10, United States Code 1121. While it is rare for these military ribbons and medals to be awarded in peacetime, performance of an extremely difficult duty in unprecedented and clearly exceptional manner could earn its presentation.
When the Legion of Merit is awarded to U.S. Armed Forces members, there are no degrees attached. Bestowal of these military decorations represent “exceptionally meritorious conduct in the performance of outstanding services and achievements.” Subsequent awards of the Legion of Merit to U.S. military personnel are denoted by Oak Leaf Clusters for U.S. Army or U.S. Air Force military decorations, and Gold or Silver Stars for U.S. Navy, U.S. Marine Corp, and U.S. Coast Guard military awards. All naval services also award the Valor Device for wearing on the Legion of Merit.
The Legion of Merit is ranked number six in the pantheon of military medals, and is worn just below the Defense Superior Service Medal, and just above the Distinguished Flying Cross in the general order of precedence that has been established for the proper display of all military awards.
The reverse of the medal has the date, 1782, which saw the inauguration of the first of America's military decorations, which was called the Badge of Military Merit. That military medal is now known as the Purple Heart.
The Legion of Merit is generally available as military medals and mini medals, military ribbons and lapel pins. Like most military medals, it is available as traditional slide-on, full size military medals or mini-medals, and slide-on military ribbons. Nowadays however, more and more military service personnel are realizing the value to their career goals of always having their uniform decorations looking their best, and have turned to the slimmer and trimmer thin military medals and mini medals and the ultra thin military ribbons to provide them with the smartest looking military award displays possible.