Serving Our Country With Honor

At Bec’s husband’s burial service seven years ago, Bill was struck by something that I didn’t even notice. Terry was buried at Arizona’s national cemetery, and so the military took care of preparing his gravestone. What Bill noticed was that the gravestone indicated that Terry had been awarded the Legion of Merit. That’s a big deal, Bill told me. A really big deal. Bill was so struck by this recognition that he refers to it often. And so, in honor of Veterans’ Day which we celebrated yesterday, he wrote this tribute about a man who served our country in an exceptional way.

By Bill McLain

About seven years ago, Kris’ brother-in-law (Beckie’s husband) Terry passed away. He had retired from the U.S. Army as a Lieutenant Colonel. In my conversations with him, he spoke of his early service in the Army, adapting computer programs to control the accuracy of artillery pieces to levels that artillery crews alone could not achieve. This early work with computers led to his recognition of the potential of computers and also led to his decision to continue his education in computer science.

Most of us who were in the military did not then – nor do we now – casually discuss what we did in the service to our country. Terry was no exception. That is why a notation on his headstone at the national cemetery in Arizona was surprising to even Beckie and his closest relatives. Although I had also been in the United States Army, I had never heard of this medal. I decided to do some research. This is what I discovered: The medal was announced in War Department Bulletin No. 40, dated August 5, 1942. Executive Order 9260, dated October 29, 1942, by President Franklin D. Roosevelt, established the rules for the Legion of Merit, and required the President’s approval for the award. Approval authority has changed over the years since 1942. In addition, from 1942 to 1944, the Legion of Merit was awarded for a fairly wide range of achievements. This was because it was, until the establishment of the Bronze Star Medal in 1944, the only decoration below the Silver Star, which could be awarded for combat valor, as well as being the only decoration lower than the Distinguished Service Medal, which could be awarded for meritorious noncombat service.

Why was Terry awarded the Legion of Merit Medal? For a period of time during Terry’s military career, he worked in Washington, D.C., for the Joint Chiefs of Staff. During that time, he worked on a program that was so confidential that he couldn’t speak about it to anyone, including his family. Bec speculated that perhaps this was when he earned the esteemed honor. We, of course, will never know for sure.

The Legion of Merit is in the following order of precedence of military awards and is one of only two that is given as a neck order (the other one being the Medal of Honor).

Sometimes there are heroes among us even when we aren’t aware of it.

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