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 seven 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 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 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, and Air 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 CW5), and to very senior enlisted personnel (typically in the rank of CSM and SMA in the Army, FLTCM and MCPON in the Navy, CMSAF in the Air Force and SgtMajMC 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 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 for Personnel Colonel Heard) by the QMG on January 5, 1942.
The Assistant Chief of Staff (G1) (B. G. Hilldring), in a response to the QMG on April 3, 1942, 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. (A separate 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.
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. Additionally, 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 Navy Nurse, 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 Army Chief of Staff 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, 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 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 as well as being the only decoration lower than the Distinguished Service Medal which could be awarded for meritorious non-combat service.
After World War II, the Legion of Merit was awarded almost exclusively to senior officers in the rank Lieutenant Colonel (Army, Marine Corps and Air Force) or Commander (Navy and Coast Guard) (O-5) and above. Around 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 senior enlisted service members (E-8 and E-9), usually as a retirement award.
The Meritorious Service Medal (MSM) was established in 1969 as a "junior" version of the Legion of Merit. The MSM is awarded more frequently and to lower ranking military personnel than the Legion of Merit, so that today the award of the Legion of Merit to officers in pay grade O-5, or to senior chief warrant officers, or to E-9s other than those in the most senior enlisted leadership positions in their respective services, is exceedingly rare and by exception.
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.
The U.S. Air Force limits the Legion of Merit to four awards per career.
Additional awards of the Legion of Merit are denoted by oak leaf clusters (in the Army and Air Force), and by 5⁄16 inch (7.9 mm) gold stars (in the Navy, Marine Corps, and Coast Guard). The sea services (i.e., the Navy, Marine Corps, and Coast Guard) may also authorize the Combat "V" for wear on the LOM, while the Army and Air Force do not authorize the "V" device.