The Legion of Merit is conferred on officers and enlisted men of the Armed Forces of the United States and on nationals of other countries who shall have distinguished themselves by exceptionally meritorious conduct in the performance of outstanding services since September 8, 1939, the date of the President's proclamation of the state of emergency that led to World War II. The Legion of Merit may be awarded for combat or noncombat services.
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. The design of the Legion of Merit (change of name) would be ready for issue immediately after legislation authorizing it was enacted into law.
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
The medal was announced in War Department Bulletin No. 40, dated 5 August 1942. Executive Order 9260, dated 29 October 1942, by President Franklin D. Roosevelt, established the rules for the Legion of Merit and required the President's approval for the 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 Dwight D. Eisenhower, revised approval authority. Current provisions are contained in Title 10, United States Code 1121.
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.