Meritorious Service Medal

Service: All Services
Instituted: 16 January 1969
Criteria: Outstanding non­combat meritorious achievement or service to the United States
Devices: Army & Air Force: Bronze, Silver Oak Leaf Cluster; Navy & Marine Corps: Gold, Silver Star; Coast Guard: Silver Letter “O”, Gold, Silver Star

Meritorious Service Medal – Overview

Authorized on January 16, 1969 and awarded to members of the Armed Forces for noncombat meritorious achievement or meritorious service after that date. The Meritorious Service Medal evolved from an initial recommendation in 1918 by General John J. Pershing, the Commander of the American Expeditionary Forces during World War I. He suggested that an award for meritorious service be created to provide special recognition to deserving individuals by the U.S. government. Although the request by General Pershing was disapproved, it was revisited several more times during World War II and afterwards. During the Vietnam War the proposal to create the military medal received significant attention and was eventually approved when President Lyndon B. Johnson signed the executive order on January 16, 1969. The Meritorious Service Medal cannot be awarded for service in a combat theater. It has often been the decoration of choice for both end of tour and retirement recognition for field grade officers and senior enlisted personnel.

Meritorious Service Medal – Design

The Meritorious Service Medal is a bronze medal with six rays rising from the top of a five-pointed star with beveled edges with two smaller stars outlined within. On the lower part of the medal in front of the star there is an eagle with its wings spread. It is standing on two curving laurel branches tied between the eagle’s talons. The eagle, symbol of the nation, holds laurel branches representing achievement. The star represents military service with the rays symbolizing individual efforts to achieve excellence. The reverse of the medal has the inscription, “UNITED STATES OF AMERICA” at the top and “MERITORIOUS SERVICE” at the bottom; the space inside the circle formed by the text is to be used for engraving the recipient’s name. The ribbon is ruby red with two white stripes and is a variation of the Legion of Merit ribbon. Jay Morris and Lewis J. King of the Institute of Heraldry designed and sculpted the Meritorious Service Medal. Additional awards are indicated by bronze and silver oak leaf clusters or gold and silver stars depending on the recipient’s Service Branch.