|Legion of Merit|
|Type||Order of merit|
|Awarded for||Exceptionally meritorious conduct in the performance of outstanding services and achievements|
|Presented by||United States Department of the Army|
United States Department of the Navy
United States Department of the Air Force
United States Department of Homeland Security
|Eligibility||Members of the Uniformed Services of the United States and political and military leaders of allied states.|
|Next (higher)||Defense Superior Service Medal|
|Next (lower)||Distinguished Flying Cross|
The Legion of Merit (LOM) is a military award of the United States Armed Forces that is given for exceptionally meritorious conduct in the performance of outstanding services and achievements. The decoration is issued to members of the eight uniformed services of the United States as well as to military and political figures of foreign governments.
The Legion of Merit (Commander degree) is one of only two United States military decorations to be issued as a neck order (the other being the Medal of Honor), and the only United States military decoration that may be issued in degrees (much like an order of chivalry or certain Orders of Merit), although the degrees including a neck ribbon are only awarded to non-U.S. nationals.
The Legion of Merit is seventh in the order of precedence of all U.S. military awards and is worn after the Defense Superior Service Medal and before the Distinguished Flying Cross. In contemporary use in the U.S. Armed Forces, the Legion of Merit is typically awarded to Army, Marine Corps, Air Force, and Space Force general officers and colonels, and Navy and Coast Guard flag officers and captains occupying senior command or very senior staff positions in their respective services. It may also be awarded to officers of lesser rank, senior warrant officers (typically in command positions at the rank of chief warrant officer 5), and to very senior enlisted personnel (typically in the rank of command sergeant major and sergeant major of the Army in the Army, fleet master chief petty officer and master chief petty officer of the Navy in the Navy, command chief master sergeant and chief master sergeant of the Air Force in the Air Force, command chief master sergeant and senior enlisted advisor of the Space Force in the Space Force, and sergeant major of the Marine Corps in the Marine Corps), but these instances are less frequent, typically by exception, and the circumstances vary by branch of service.
Authority to award the Legion of Merit is reserved for general officers and flag officers in pay grade O-9 (e.g. lieutenant general and vice admiral) and above, civilian Department of Defense personnel at assistant service secretary or Assistant Secretary of Defense level and above, or equivalent secretary-level civilian personnel with the Department of Homeland Security with direct oversight of the U.S. Coast Guard.
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 Army Regulation 672-7 and is based on the relative rank or position of the recipient as follows:
When the Legion of Merit is awarded to members of the uniformed services of the United States, it is awarded without reference to degree. The criteria are "for exceptionally meritorious conduct in the performance of outstanding services and achievements" and is typically reserved for senior officers at O-6 level and above, typically in connection with senior leadership/command positions or other senior positions of significant responsibility.
Although recommendations for creation of a medal for meritorious service 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 the Assistant Chief of Staff for Personnel (Colonel Heard) by the QMG on January 5, 1942.
The Assistant Chief of Staff (G-1), Brigadier General John H. Hilldring, in a response to the QMG on April 3, 1942, indicated the Secretary of War had 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. (A separate medal called the Meritorious Service Medal was established in 1969.)
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
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 the award.
Following the invasion of North Africa in November 1942, a number of United States officers were awarded the Legion of Merit in the degree of Officer. One of the recipients was future Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Lyman Lemnitzer. Soon after, regulations for the award of the Legion of Merit were revised so that it would not be awarded in the degrees above Legionnaire to United States military personnel.
The Legion of Merit is similar to the French Legion of Honor in both its design, a five-armed cross, and in that it is awarded in multiple degrees. Unlike the Legion of Honor, however, the Legion of Merit is only awarded to military personnel. In addition, it is the only award in the world with multiple degrees of which the higher degrees cannot be awarded to citizens of the country of the award's origin.
In October 1942, Brazilian Army Brigadier General Amaro Soares Bittencourt became the first person awarded the Legion of Merit (Commander) and a week later, Lieutenant, junior grade Ann A. Bernatitus, a U.S. Navy Nurse Corps officer, became the first member of the United States Armed Forces and the first woman to receive the Legion of Merit. She received the award for her service during the defense of the Philippines. LTJG Bernatitus was also the first recipient of the Legion of Merit authorized to wear a Combat "V" with the medal.
In 1943, at the request of the Army Chief of Staff, General George C. Marshall, approval authority for U.S. personnel was delegated to the Department of War. Executive Order 10600, dated March 15, 1955, by President Dwight D. Eisenhower, again revised approval authority. Current provisions are contained in Title 10, United States Code 1121. As a result, awarding authority for the Legion of Merit resides with general officers/flag officers at the Lieutenant General / Vice Admiral level or higher.
The U.S. Navy, Marine Corps, and Coast Guard, unlike the Army and later the Air Force, provided for the Legion of Merit to be awarded with a "V" device indicating awards for participation in combat operations.
From 1942 to 1944, the Legion of Merit was awarded for a fairly wide range of achievements. This was because it was, until the establishment of the Bronze Star Medal in 1944, the only decoration below the Silver Star which could be awarded for combat valor, and the only decoration below the Distinguished Service Medal which could be awarded for meritorious noncombat service.
After the establishment of the Bronze Star Medal (BSM) in February 1944, the Legion of Merit was awarded almost exclusively to senior officers in the rank of lieutenant colonel (Army, Marine Corps and Air Force) or commander (Navy and Coast Guard) (O-5), and above. Beginning in the 1980s, the Legion of Merit began to be awarded more frequently to senior-ranking warrant officers (W-4 and W-5), as well as to senior enlisted service members (E-8 and E-9), usually as a retirement award. When not awarded as a retirement award, it is most commonly awarded to officers in pay grade O-6 and higher.
The Meritorious Service Medal (MSM) was established in 1969 as a "junior" version of the Legion of Merit and prior to 2003 was only awarded for non-combat service. The MSM is awarded more frequently, and to more lower-ranking military personnel, than the Legion of Merit. Recipients of the MSM are usually in pay grades E-7 thru E-9, W-3 thru W-5 (Army Only), and O-4 thru O-6 for the Army, Air Force, and Space Force; for the Navy, Marine Corps, and Coast Guard the MSM is usually presented to those in pay grades E-9, W-4, W-5, O-5 and O-6.
The ribbon for all of the decorations is 1+3⁄8 inches (35 mm) wide and consists of the following stripes: 1⁄16 inch (1.6 mm) white; center 1+1⁄4 inches (32 mm) crimson; and 1⁄16 inch (1.6 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.
Additional awards of the Legion of Merit are denoted by oak leaf clusters (in the Army, Air Force, and Space Force), and by 5⁄16 inch (7.9 mm) gold stars (in the Navy, Marine Corps, and Coast Guard). Until 2017, the sea services (the Navy, Marine Corps, and Coast Guard) awarded the Combat "V" for wear on the LOM. The Army, Air Force, and Space Force do not authorize the "V" device for the Legion of Merit.
A few recipients are listed above.
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