The Legion of Merit is one of widest-ranging medals awarded by the United States. It is awarded to members of every U.S. uniformed service as well as to military and political figures of foreign governments, recognizing individuals' exceptionally meritorious conduct in the performance of outstanding services and achievements and/or their service to the U.S.
The medal is fifth or sixth in order of precedence depending on the branch of the armed service. It is also the only medal with a neck order besides the Medal of Honor.
The medal was first suggested in 1937, but it wasn't until July 20, 1942 that it was enacted into law. Between 1942 and 1944, the Legion of Merit was given for both meritorious service and combat valor, but the establishment of the Bronze Star refocused the criteria for this decoration.
Typically, the Legion of Merit is awarded to U.S. senior officers. In foreign countries, the medal is given in degrees: Chief Commander for heads of state or government (although FDR also gave it to WWII theatre commanders); Commander for the equivalent of a military chief of staff; Officer for a general, colonel, or equivalent position for military service or military attachés; and Legionnaire for all other recipients.
The elaborate medal consists of a blue enamel disc surrounded by 14 gold clouds and inscribed with 13 white enamel stars. It is superimposed on a white enamel star edged in crimson with five v-shaped points, each accented with a gold ball. That in turn is superimposed on a gold disc with an outer wreath of green enamel laurel and with gold crossed arrows between each point of the star. A gold bow is at the bottom, and the medal hangs from a gold laurel wreath suspension ring threaded with a crimson neck ribbon.
On the back is a repeat of the white star with a gold disc for engraving the recipient's name, surrounded by the phrase "Annuit Coeptis MDCCLXXXII" ("He Has Favored Our Undertakings"). The date, 1782, marks the establishment of the U.S.'s first military award, now known as the Purple Heart.
In the sea services, a "V" device signifies the medal was awarded for combat action. In the Army and Air Force, subsequent medals are denoted by bronze oak leaves (silver for five or more); gold stars (silver for five or more) are used for the Navy, Marine Corps, and Coast Guard.