The Legion of Merit is a military decoration of the United States armed forces that 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 one of only three United States decorations to be issued as a neck order (the others being the Medal of Honor and the Presidential Medal of Freedom), and the only United States decoration which may be issued in award degrees (much like an Order of chivalry or certain Orders of Merit).
The Legion of Merit is sixth in the order of precedence of U.S. military decorations, and is worn after the Defense Superior Service Medal and before the Distinguished Flying Cross.
- The degrees of Chief Commander, Commander, Officer, and Legionnaire are awarded only to members of armed forces of foreign nations under the criteria outlined in US Army Regulation 672-7 and is based on the relative rank or position of the recipient as follows:
- Chief Commander - Chief of State or Head of Government. However this degree has been awarded by President Roosevelt to some Allied World War II theatre commanders usually of joint amphibious landings or invasions. The President appeared to have this power under Executive Order 9260 of 29th October 1942 paragraph 3b.
- 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; 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 Legion of Merit is awarded to all members of the Armed Forces of the United States without reference to degree for exceptionally meritorious conduct in the performance of outstanding services and achievements.
- 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.
- The degrees and the design of the decoration were clearly influenced by the French Légion d'honneur.
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 1941-12-24, 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 1942-01-05.
The Assistant Chief of Staff (G1) (BG Hilldring), in a response to the QMG on 1942-04-03, indicated the Secretary of War approved the design recommended by the QMG. The design of the Legion of Merit (change of name) would 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 1942-07-20, 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 President on 1939-09-08, 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 1942-08-05. Executive Order 9260, dated 1942-10-29, by President Franklin D. Roosevelt, established the rules for the Legion of Merit and required the President's approval for the 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 1955-03-15, by President Dwight D. Eisenhower, revised approval authority. Current provisions are contained in Title 10, United States Code 1121.
The reverse of the medal 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.
- Chief Commander:
- British General Sir Kenneth A.N. Anderson, KCB, MC (18 June 1943)
- Chinese Generalissimo Chiang Kai-shek (July 1943)
- British Field Marshal Bernard Law Montgomery, 1st Viscount Montgomery of Alamein, KG, GCB, DSO, PC, (6 August 1943)
- Marshal of the Royal Air Force Arthur William Tedder, 1st Baron Tedder of Glenguin, GCB (27 August 1943)
- British Admiral Sir Victor Crutchley VC, (September 1944) commander of Royal Australian Navy in WW II
- Marshal of the Royal Air Force Sir Arthur Travers Harris, 1st Baronet GCB OBE AFC RAF (17 October 1944)
- King George VI of the United Kingdom (1945)
- British Admiral of the Fleet Sir Andrew Browne Cunningham GCB DSO Royal Navy
- British Admiral Sir John Henry Dacres Cunningham KCB, MVO Royal Navy (For gallant and distinguished service during the invasion operations in Northern Italy and the South of France)
- British Admiral Sir Bertram Home Ramsay KCB, KBE, MVO, Royal Navy (For gallant and distinguished service whilst in command of the invasion operations on Normandy)
- British Acting Air Marshal Sir Arthur Coningham KCB, DSO, MC, DFC, AFC, Royal Air Force
- British Admiral of the Fleet Sir Philip Vian G.C.B., K.B.E., C.M.G. (17 July 1945)
- Marshal of the Soviet Union Georgy Zhukov (1945)
- King Michael I of Romania (1945)
- Emperor Haile Selassie of Ethiopia (1945)
- Yugoslav Royal Army General Draža Mihailović (29 March 1948)
- British Field Marshal William Slim, 1st Viscount Slim KG, GCB, GCMG, GCVO, GBE, DSO, MC (1948)
- Australian Prime Minister Sir Robert Menzies, KT, AK, CH, QC (1950)
- Indian Army Field Marshal Kodandera Madappa Cariappa
- Turkish ex-Commander in Chief of the Armed Forces Hilmi Özkök (2002)
- Israeli General, IDF Chief Commander Gabi Ashkenazi (24 July 2008)
- Lieutenant General Bernard Freyberg, 1st Baron Freyberg VC, arguably New Zealand's most famous soldier and military commander, also served as Governor-General of New Zealand.
- Brazil's Brigadier General Amaro Soares Bittencourt was the first to receive the medal in a degree.
- Colombian's General I.M Elias Nino Herrera, Colombian Marine Corps, For exeptionally meritorious conduct in the performance of outstanding service as Commandant of the Colombian Marine Corps. General Nino's cooperation and understanding have been a significant contribution to the mutual friendship between Colombia and the United States.
- Ecuador's General de Ejercito (General of the Army) Paco Moncayo, because of his exceptionally superior performance as Chief of the Armed Forces Joint Command and his contribution to Ecuadorian history, politics and democracy
- The Philippine's General Fidel Valdez Ramos, former President of the Philippines and a 1950 West Point United States Military Academy graduate
- The Philippine's General Alfredo M. Santos, Chief of Staff of the Armed Forces of the Philippines 1962 - 1965
- Australia's Chiefs of the Defence Force - General Sir Phillip Bennett, Generals John Baker, and General Peter Cosgrove
- General Alfred John Gardyne Drummond de Chastelain, OC, CMM, CH, CD was appointed Commander of the Legion of Merit in 1995, and in 1999, he was made a Companion of Honour by HM The Queen. He is the former Chief of the Defence Staff (Canada) for the Canadian Forces and he is the Chairman of the Independent International Commission on Decommissioning since November 1995 for the Northern Ireland peace process.
- Stefan Rowecki "Grot," Polish General and the Commander of the Home Army. He was decorated posthumously on August 9, 1984 by Ronald Reagan.
- Lt. Gen. Władysław Anders, Polish General and the Commander of the 2nd Polish Corps.
- German Generals Hans-Otto Budde, Adolf Heusinger, Klaus Naumann and Wolfgang Schneiderhan
- French Generals Edgard de Larminat, Alain de Boissieu and Vincent Desportes
- Bangladesh Army's Brigadier General Sharif Uddin Ahmed was the first Bangladeshi General to receive this award for his outstanding service as the Defence Attache from 1985 to 1989 in Bangladesh Embassy, United States.
- General Sir Peter de la Billière KCB, KBE, DSO, MC & bar, commander of the British forces during Gulf War I
- General Michael John Dawson Walker, Baron Walker of Aldringham GCB, CMG, CBE, ADC, DL, former Chief of the Defence Staff (CDS) in the United Kingdom and Commander of the Implementation Force in Bosnia.
- Air Chief Marshal Sir Keith Rodney Park of New Zealand, Royal Air Force commander during the Battle of Britain and later Allied Air Commander South East Asia.
- Turkish ex-Commander in Chief of the Armed Forces Mehmet Yaşar Büyükanıt (12 December 2005)
- First award to Lieutenant Ann A. Bernatitus, heroic Navy Nurse who served at Bataan and Corregidor.
- At the beginning of the North African campaign, General Lyman L. Lemnitzer accompanied General Mark Wayne 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 Lemnitzer, President Roosevelt was quite annoyed but did not rescind the awards. These were the only U.S. officers awarded the Legion of Merit with a degree.
- David H. Hackworth - Highly decorated Vietnam veteran who was awarded several Silver Stars and two Distinguished Service Crosses
- Hyman G. Rickover, the "Father of the Nuclear Navy"
- Michael Mullen, six awards, Chief of Naval Operations, later Chairman of the Joint Chiefs
- John P. Abizaid, six awards, former commander of U.S. Central Command
- Edward L. Beach, Jr., commanding officer of USS Triton (SSRN-586) for the first submerged circumnavigation of the world.
- Edwin Hubble, American astronomer, for his WWII work at the Aberdeen Proving Ground.
- Paul X. Rinn, commanding officer of the USS Samuel B. Roberts (FFG-58), who led his crew to save their mine-damaged warship in the Persian Gulf in 1988.
- William C. Rogers III, former commanding officer of the USS Vincennes (CG-49), which shot down an Iranian jetliner in 1988.
- David Niven, Lt-Col, British Commando in WWII.
- Audie Murphy, most highly decorated US soldier of WWII.
- George Stevens, Lieutenant Colonel, U.S. Army; the two-time Oscar-winning film director headed the U.S. Army Signal Corps unit that filmed the Normandy landings and the liberation of the Dachau death camp.
- Kirk Lippold, CDR, Commanding officer of the USS Cole (DDG-67) which was attacked by suicide bombers in the port of Aden, Yemen on October 12, 2000. 2 awards (2nd while aboard USS Cole).
- James G. Stavridis, U.S. Admiral, Southern Command, 5 awards.
- John Kline, United States Congressman (2003-present), 4 awards.
- Senator John McCain, Naval aviator and Vietnam Prisoner of War
- William "Billy" Waugh, for Special Forces service during the Vietnam conflict.
- Col. Benjamin O. Davis Jr. Tuskegee Airman of 99th Squadron was awarded in 1944
- Colonel Todd David Hess, First AF member to receive Army Legion of Medical Merit; DCCS LRMC, 435th Medical Squadron, Germany. First physician to ever perform a cataract extraction via phacoemulsification in the history of the RAF Lakenheath hospital.
- Lt. Cmdr. Henry Plage, Captain of the USS Tabberer, the ship that rescued 55 U.S. Naval personnel during and after the cyclone of December 1944, despite dangerous seas and damage the Tabberer.
- Colonel Will H. Horn, 4 awards, for support of the Cambodian government in 1970 and other exceptional service.
- Jerauld Wright, U.S. Navy, 2 awards.
- Llewellyn Chilson, U.S. Army Master Sergeant, World War II. Also received three Distinguished Service Crosses, two Silver Stars, two Bronze Stars, three Purple Hearts, the Army Commendation Medal, the Combat Infantryman Badge, and the French Croix de Guerre with Palm.
- Danny L. Chambers, U.S. Army Command Sergeant Major, Joint Service Commendation Medal, Joint Service Achievement Medal, 2 Meritorious Service Medal,Army Commendation Medal, Army Achievement Medal,Viet Nam Service Medal,Viet Nam Service Ribbon
- The Chief Commander Degree 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 Degree 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 2¼ 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) white 67101; center 1 13/16 inches (46 mm) crimson and 1/16 inch (2 mm) white.
- The Officer Degree of the Legion of Merit Medal is similar to the degree of Commander except the overall width is 1 7/80 miles (48 mm) and the pendant has a suspension ring instead of the wreath for attaching the ribbon. A gold replica of the medal, ¾ inch (19 mm) wide, is centered on the suspension ribbon.
- The Legionnaire Degree 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 1¼ 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.
Any false written or verbal claim to a decoration or medal or any wear, purchase, attempt to purchase, solicitation for purchase, mailing, shipping, import, export, manufacture, sale, attempt to sell, advertising for sale, trade, or barter of a decoration or medal authorized for wear by authorized military members or veterans is a federal offense punishable by up to six months in jail and up to a $5,000 fine.