|United States Marine Corps Brevet Medal|
In its simplest terms, a brevet promotion is an advancement in rank without corresponding advancement in either pay or position. Brevet promotions were widely used in the past to reward outstanding service or gallantry in action. Although they no longer exist in the American military establishment, brevet promotions have a long, colorful and important history. A knowledge of the concept is crucial to understanding the significance of the Brevet Medal and is equally important to understanding the evolution of officer rank in general. Brevets did not originate in this country, but like so many of our other traditions, came to us from England.
As a natural part of the system Their use was limited by Act of Congress on April 6, 1818, which authorized the conferring of brevets on officers of the Army, but required that they be conferred only by and with the advice and consent of the Senate. This Act of Congress also authorized awarding brevet promotions for either extraordinary merit or for the completion of ten years of service. The reason for this provision was simple. Promotions could only be given if there were vacancies through death, resignation, or dismissal and since the Army was so small there were few positions and advancement was slow. Brevet promotions were seen as a solution to the problem. From a cost perspective they had another advantage. Brevet rank entitled the holder to the pay of the brevet rank only if he held a command consistent with that rank. If a captain held a brevet commission as a major but filled a captain's slot, he would only be paid as a captain.
An Act of Congress on April 16, 1814, authorized brevets for the Marine Corps by providing, '7hat the President is hereby authorized to confer brevet rank on such officers of the Marine Corps as shall distinguish themselves by gallant actions and meritorious conduc4 or shall have served ten years in any one grade. " In the 86 years that followed, a total of 121 brevet promotions were granted to 100 Marine Corps officers. Although most of these officers only received one such promotion, fifteen received two and three officers were breveted three times. The first brevet promotion was given to Captain Anthony Gale on April 24, 1814, promoting him to major by reason of not having been a captain for ten years. This Act of Congress did not open a floodgate of brevet promotions; only three other officers received them that year, and no more than seven were granted in any given year until the war with Mexico.
The law authorizing brevets for Marines was modified twenty years later by Act of Congress on June 30, 1834, which also granted Marine Corps officers pay equality with Army officers. In addition, this Act repealed the granting of brevets for ten years service in grade (although those officers who had received such brevets were allowed to retain their rank). This provision made brevet promotions a reward for gallantry in action or meritorious service thereby making the brevet commission one of the most significant ways in which an officer of the Marine Corps could achieve recognition. For the next 81 years it was the highest award a Marine Corps officer could receive
As a result, the need for brevets passed into history - but not until one final chapter had been written: the establishment of the Brevet Medal which was to become unique among American decorations. The following lists the recipients of brevet promotions.
In April 12,1921, the Commandant of the Marine Corps, John A. LeJeune recommended to Secretary of the Navy Edwin Denby, that "an appropriate medal or badge or ribbon be prescribed as an article of uniform to denote the holder of a brevet commission." General LeJeune pointed out that brevet commissions had been conferred upon certain Marine Corps officers for "distinguished conduct or public service m the presence of the enemy" during the Spanish-American War, the Philippine Insurrection, and the Boxer Rebellion. He went on to note that there was no authorization for the award of a decoration or badge to denote a brevet promotion and, in actual practice, the brevet commission, once conferred was quickly forgotten by the service at large. The time-honored brevet had become nothing more than an empty honor and lacked any visible sip of the distinguished service it represented. A different condition, he remarked, existed for officers who had earned distinction in the recently concluded First World War. They had earned several newly created decorations, including the Army's Distinguished Service Cross, the Navy Cross, and the Distinguished Service Medals of both the Army and Navy.
The Marine Corps generally followed the Army's lead in regard to rules and regulations of arms, accouterments, manner of dress, wearing of insignia, and the awarding of decorations and medals. Therefore, by first endorsement to General LeJeune's letter the Secretary of the Navy wrote to Secretary of War John W. Weeks to coordinate action on LeJeune's proposal. He pointed out that the Marine Corps was governed by the same general statutes concerning brevets as the Army and asked for comments from the War Department on LeJeune's proposal. The Navy's position was that any badge prescribed for holders of brevets should be the same for both the Army and the Marine Corps. The Secretary of War replied on May 3, 1921, and his answer was short and to the point The Army did not wish to support LeJeune’s proposal. Since there were no longer any Army officers on active duty who held brevet commissions, and since when such officers were on active duty they wore the insignia of their brevet rank, the War Department did not wish to further distinguish brevets by any kind of special decoration.
Regardless of the negative position of the Navy Department, Brigadier General Charles L. McCawley indorsed the effort, and on June 27, 1921, General LeJeune issued Marine Corps Order Number 26. The importance of the Brevet Medal with respect to other decorations was not recognized at its inception. It was original placed after the campaign in which the brevet was awarded. Shortly after that, it was changed. The Brevet Medal indicated the recipient was holding a commission issued by the President and confirmed by the Senate, "For Distinguished Conduct and Public Service in the Presence of the Enemy." To insure its distinction it was to be worn immediately after the Medal of Honor.
are the only known recipients of the Brevet Medal.
*Information from the book, "The Brevet Medal" by John E. Lelle.