a. 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 24 December 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 5 January 1942. The Assistant Chief of Staff G1 (BG Hilldring) in a response to the QMG on 3 April 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.
b. An Act of Congress (Public Law 671 - 77th Congress, Chapter 508, 2d Session) on 20 July 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 President 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 5 August 1942. Executive Order 9260, dated 29 October 1942, by President 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 15 March 1955, by President Eisenhower, revised approval authority. Current provisions are contained in Title 10, United States Code 1121.
c. 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.
d. The Legion of Merit was the first American decoration awarded to citizens of other nations. Awardees included:
Chief Commander - China’s Generalissimo Chiang Kaishek was a first recipient.
Commander - Brazil’s Brigadier General Amaro Soares Bittencourt was first to receive this or any of the degrees.
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.
Legionnaire/Legion of Merit - First award to Lieutenant Anna 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 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 annoyed, however, he did not rescind the awards. Accordingly, these were the only American Officers awarded the Legion of Merit with a degree.
e. Order of precedence and wear of decorations is contained in Army Regulation 670-1. Policy for awards, approving authority, supply, and issue of decorations is contained in Army Regulation 600-8-22.