Created in 1942, the Legion of Merit Medal is granted to individuals who demonstrate an exceptional level of meritorious conduct. It may be awarded either to members of the United States Armed Forces or to members of foreign military and political bodies.
When presented to foreign officers, the award is given in four different degrees with slight variations according to rank: Chief Commander (ribbon with gold miniature of decoration and horizontal gold bar, joined to medal by laurel wreath), Commander (silver miniature and silver bar, joined by v-shape), Officer (gold miniature, no bar, joined by v-shape), and Legionnaire (undecorated ribbon, joined by v-shape).
No distinction in degree is made when the award is given to U.S. personnel, though the Legion of Merit is typically presented only to senior command or staff, with occasional exceptions. For the Army and Air Force, multiple awards may be indicated by oak leaf clusters; they may be signified by either stars or the Combat “V” device for the Navy, Marine Corps, and Coast Guard.
The Legion of Merit award is generally reserved for wartime feats but may in rare cases be granted during peacetime to recognize especially difficult or notable service. Additionally, the award may be given in recognition of the sustained performance of notable comportment or accomplishments.
Along with the Medal of Honor, the Legion of Merit is one of only two U.S. military awards in the form of neck orders. The medal itself is a five-pointed white star with crimson trim. The center is a blue circle with 13 white stars and is surrounded by a wreath of gold clouds. Each point of the star features a gold ball on the tip, and the star is back by a wreath of green laurel and crossed gold arrows. A gold bow appears on the bottom of the medal.
The reverse of the medal reads “UNITED STATES OF AMERICA” and includes a disk onto which the name of the recipient is engraved.