Legion of Merit

From Academic Kids

Legion of Merit medal
Legion of Merit medal

The Legion of Merit is a military decoration of the United States armed forces which is awarded for exceptionally meritorious conduct in the performance of outstanding services and achievements. The decoration is issued both to United States military personnel and to military and political figures of foreign governments. The Legion of Merit is the only United States decoration to be issued in award degrees.



The performance must have been such as to merit recognition of key individuals for service rendered in a clearly exceptional manner. Performance of duties normal to the grade, branch, specialty or assignment, and experience of an individual is not an adequate basis for this award. For service not related to actual war the term "key individual" applies to a narrower range of positions than in time of war and requires evidence of significant achievement. In peacetime, service should be in the nature of a special requirement or of an extremely difficult duty performed in an unprecedented and clearly exceptional manner. However, justification of the award may accrue by virtue of exceptionally meritorious service in a succession of important positions.


Members of the United States military receive the Legion of Merit medal which is issued without degree. However, when bestowing the Legion of Merit upon members of foreign militaries or governments, the Legion of Merit is issued in the following degrees:

  • Chief Commander - Chief of State or Head of Government
  • Commander - Equivalent of an U.S. military Chief of Staff or higher position but not to Chief of State.
  • Officer - General or Flag Officer below the equivalent of a U.S. military Chief of Staff; also a Colonel or equivalent rank for service in assignments equivalent to those normally held by a General or Flag Officer in U.S. military service or Military Attaches.
  • Legionnaire - All recipients not included above

The degrees and the design of the decoration were clearly influenced by the French Legion of Honor.


Although recommendations for creation of a Meritorious Service Medal were initiated as early as September 1937, no formal action was taken toward approval. In a letter to the Quartermaster General (QMG) dated December 24, 1941, the Adjutant General formally requested action be initiated to create a Meritorious Service Medal and provide designs in the event the decoration was established. Proposed designs prepared by Bailey, Banks, and Biddle and the Office of the Quartermaster General were provided to Assistant Chief of Staff G1 (Colonel Heard) by the QMG on January 5, 1942. The Assistant Chief of Staff G1 (BG Hilldring) in a response to the QMG on April 3, 1942, indicated the Secretary of War approved the design recommended by the QMG and directed action be taken to assure the design of the Legion of Merit (change of name) be ready for issue immediately after legislation authorizing it was enacted into law.

An Act of Congress (Public Law 671 - 77th Congress, Chapter 508, 2d Session) on July 20, 1942, established the Legion of Merit and provided that the medal "shall have suitable appurtenances and devices and not more than four degrees, and which the President, under such rules and regulations as he shall prescribe, may award to (a) personnel of the Armed Forces of the United States and of the Government of the Commonwealth Philippines and (b) personnel of the armed forces of friendly foreign nations who, since the proclamation of an emergency by the resident on 8 September 1939, shall have distinguished themselves by exceptionally meritorious conduct in the performance of outstanding services". The medal was announced in War Department Bulletin No. 40 dated August 5, 1942. Executive Order 9260, dated October 29, 1942, by President Franklin D. Roosevelt, established the rules for the Legion of Merit and required the President's approval for award. However, in 1943, at the request of General George C. Marshall, approval authority for U.S. personnel was delegated to the War Department. Executive Order 10600, dated March 15, 1955, by President Dwight D. Eisenhower, revised approval authority. Current provisions are contained in Title 10, United States Code 1121.

Famous recipients

The Legion of Merit was the first American decoration awarded to citizens of other nations. Awardees included:

  1. Chief Commander - China's Generalissimo Chiang Kai-shek was a first recipient. Soviet Marshall Zhukov was also another recipient of this degree.
  2. Commander - Brazil's Brigadier General Amaro Soares Bittencourt was first to receive this or any of the degrees.
  3. Officer - first to receive the Officer degree were Colonel Johanes K. Meijer of the Royal Netherlands Army, Major Herbert J. Thompson of the British Army, and Major Stephan M. Dobrowalski of the Polish Army.
  4. Legionnaire/Legion of Merit - First award to Lieutenant Anna A. Bernatitus, heroic Navy Nurse who served at Bataan and Corregidor.
  5. At the beginning of the North African Campaign, General Lyman L. Lemnitzer accompanied General Mark Clark by submarine to North Africa. Upon arrival, about 60 officers were awarded the Legion of Merit and were among the first awarded the medal. By some misunderstanding as to the rules governing the awards, these 60 American Officers were awarded the degree of Officer. According to General Lemnitzer, President Roosevelt was quite annoyed, however, he did not rescind the awards. Accordingly, these were the only American Officers awarded the Legion of Merit with a degree.
  6. General Alfred John Gardyne Drummond de Chastelain, OC, CMM, CH, CDwas appointed Commander of the Legion of Merit in 1995, and in 1999, he was made a Companion of Honour. He is the former Chief of the Defence Staff (Canada) for the Canadian Armed Forces and he is the Chairman of the Independent International Commission on Decommissioning since November 1995 for the Northern Ireland peace process.


Chief Commader Commander Officer Legionnaire
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The Chief Commander of the Legion of Merit Medal is, on a wreath of green laurel joined at the bottom by a gold bow-knot (rosette), a domed five-pointed white star bordered crimson, points reversed with v-shaped extremities tipped with a gold ball. In the center, a blue disk encircled by gold clouds, with 13 white stars arranged in the pattern that appears on the United States Coat of Arms. Between each point, within the wreath are crossed arrows pointing outwards. The overall width is 2 15/16 inches (75 mm). The words "UNITED STATES OF AMERICA" are engraved in the center of the reverse. A miniature of the decoration in gold on a horizontal gold bar is worn on the service ribbon.

The Commander of the Legion of Merit Medal is, on a wreath of green laurel joined at the bottom by a gold bow-knot (rosette), a five-pointed white star bordered crimson, points reversed with v-shaped extremities tipped with a gold ball. In the center, a blue disk encircled by gold clouds, with 13 white stars arranged in the pattern that appears on the United States Coat of Arms. Between each star point, within the wreath are crossed arrows pointing outwards. The overall width is 2 1/4 inches (57 mm). A gold laurel wreath in the v-shaped angle at the top connects an oval suspension ring to the neck ribbon that is 1 15/16 inches (49 mm) in width. The reverse of the five-pointed star is enameled in white, and the border is crimson. In the center, a disk for engraving the name of the recipient surrounded by the words "ANNUIT COEPTIS MDCCLXXXII." An outer scroll contains the words "UNITED STATES OF AMERICA." The service ribbon is the same as the ribbon for the degree of Commander, except the ribbon attachment is Silver.

The neck ribbon for the degree of Commander is 1 15/16 inches (49 mm) wide and consists of the following stripes: 1/16 inch (2 mm) hhite 67101; center 1 13/16 inches (46 mm) crimson and 1/16 inch (2 mm) white.

The Officer of the Legion of Merit Medal is similar to the degree of Commander except the overall width is 1 7/8 inches (48 mm) and the pendant has a suspension ring instead of the wreath for attaching the ribbon. A gold replica of the medal, 3/4 inch (19 mm) wide, is centered on the suspension ribbon.

The Legionnaire of the Legion of Merit Medal and the Legion of Merit Medal issued to U.S. personnel is the same as the degree of Officer, except the suspension ribbon does not have the medal replica.

The ribbon for all of the decorations is 1 3/8 inches (35 mm) wide and consists of the following stripes: 1/16 inch (2 mm) white; center 1 1/4 inches (32 mm) crimson; and 1/16 inch (2 mm) white. The reverse of all of the medals has the motto taken from the Great Seal of the United States "ANNUIT COEPTIS" (He (God) Has Favored Our Undertakings) and the date "MDCCLXXXII" (1782) which is the date of America's first decoration, the Badge of Military Merit, now known as the Purple Heart. The ribbon design also follows the pattern of the Purple Heart ribbon.sl:Legija za zasluge


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