The Legion of Merit is awarded to members foreign nations according to the plane of responsibility of the receiver of the award. Army Regulation 672-7 qualifies the degrees based upon the standard on the qualified rank of position of the receiver of the award:
- Chief Commander is awarded to a Chief of State or Head of Government
- Commander is awarded to one that is the equivalent of a U.S. military Chief of Staff or higher position but not to Chief of State
- Officer is awarded to General of 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 is awarded to recipients not included in any of the other ranks and positions
Chief Commander Legion of Merit
The Legion of Merit designated as Chief Commander is 2 15/16 inches in width. It is an arched white star of five points reversed with v-shaped extremities, each tipped with a gold ball, surrounded by crimson on a green laurel wreath connecting at the bottom with a gold bow-know (rosette). A blue circle surrounded by gold clouds is in the middle with 13 white stars set in the pattern that is on the United States Coat of Arms. On the reverse side of the medal bears the inscription "United States of America" in the center. The service ribbon is worn with a bar holding a miniature of the award in gold.
Commander Legion of Merit
The Legion of Merit designated as Commander is 2 1/4 inches in width. It is a white star of five reversed points, each tipped with a gold ball, surrounded by crimson on a green laurel wreath connecting at the bottom with a gold bow-know (rosette). A blue circle surrounded by gold clouds is in the middle with 13 white stars set in the pattern that is on the United States Coat of Arms. Arrows, crossed and pointing outwards are contained in the wreath flanked by each star point. At the top in a v-shaped angle, is a gold laurel wreath joined to an oval ring to the 1 15/16 inch wide neck ribbon. On the reverse side of the star is enameled in white, with a crimson border. Space is available for the recipient's name on a circle bordered by the words "Annuit Coeptis MDCCLXXXII." The words "United States of America" are on an outer scroll. The only difference between the ribbon for this and the Chief Commander is that the attachment is silver.
Officer Legion of Merit
The Legion of Merit designated as Officer varies from the degree of Commander only in that the width is 1 7/8 inches and the pendant is attached to the ribbon by a suspension ring. A ¾ inch wide duplication of the medal is centered on the suspension ribbon.
Legionnaire Legion of Merit
The Legion of Merit designated as Legionnaire varies only from the degree of Officer in that the medal duplication is not on the suspension ribbon.
The Legion of Merit ribbon for the decorations has a width of 1 3/8 inches and has three stripes. The first is a 1/16 inch in white, the center is 1 ¼ crimson in color, and the last is a 1/16 inch white.
- Chief Commander: On the service ribbon suspended from a horizontal gold horizontal bar is a gold replica of the decoration
- Commander: Differs from the degree of commander only in that the ribbon attachment is silver.
- Officer: The suspension ribbon has a gold duplication of the medal centered on it.
- Legionnaire: No medal duplication is on the suspension ribbon.
Any person serving in the Armed Forces of the United States without regard to the degree may be awarded the Legion of Merit for extraordinarily meritorious conduct while in the discharging of their duty with outstanding services and achievements.
The act justifying the award must have been committed in an obviously outstanding way so as to have been recognized by significant persons. Execution of responsibilities typical to the grade, branch, specialty or assignment and experience of a person is not sufficient criteria for the Legion of Merit.
For duty not associated with actual war, there must be confirmation of noteworthy accomplishment by "key individuals" in a narrower range of the station. While in times of peace, the justifying act should have a quality of an unusual requirement or of a remarkably complicated act carried out in an unexpected and obviously extraordinary way; however, the award may be validated by the accrual of outstanding meritorious services of important positions.
As early as Sept. 1937, proposals for the establishment of a Meritorious Service Medal were made; however, no official action was taken towards its approval. The Adjutant General, in a letter to the Quartermaster General (QMG) on 24 Dec. 1941, formally called for action to begin to formulate and design a Meritorious Service Medal in the occasion that the decoration was instituted. On 5 Jan. 1942, the QMG gave the Assistant Chief of Staff G1 (Colonel Heard) suggested designs created by Bailey, Banks and Biddle and the Office of the Quartermaster General.
The design referred by the QMG was approved by the Secretary of War as indicated by a letter in response to the QMG by The Assistant Chief of Staff G1 (BG Hilldring). Directions were given that action is taken to guarantee the design of the Legion of Merit (change of name) and that it would be ready for issue as soon as the legislation was taken approving its ratification into law.
On 20 July 1942, The Legion of Merit was formally confirmed by An Act of Congress (Public Law 671 - 77th Congress, Chapter 508, 2d Session) and assured 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 Sept. 1939, shall have distinguished themselves by exceptionally meritorious conduct in the performance of outstanding services."
On 5 Aug. 1942, the War Department Bulletin No. 40 published the medal. On 29 Oct. 1942, President Roosevelt, in Executive Order 9260 instituted the rules for the Legion of Merit and commanded the President's approval for the award. However, at the appeal of General George C. Marshall, approval authority for U.S. appointees was given to the War Department in 1943. President Eisenhower revised approval authority in Executive Order 10600 on 15 March 1955. Title 10, United States Code 1121 contains the current requirements.
The motto taken from the Great Seal of the United States, "ANNUIT COEPTIS," (He [God] Has Favored Our Undertakings) along with the date of America's first decoration, the Badge of Military Merit, now recognized as the Purple Heart, "MDCCLXXXII" (1782) is on the reverse side of the medal. The design of the ribbon is the same as the Purple Heart Ribbon.