On May 23, 2000 WA ANG Colonel (Ret) Steven Dal Porto got the biggest surprise of his military career. Major General Frank Scoggins, Commander of the WA ANG, drove to the small eastern Washington town of Lind, where Col (Ret) Dal Porto is the School District Superintendent. The purpose of his visit was to present the prestigious Legion of Merit medal to the recently retired Colonel, who had been his close friend for many years. It had taken months for the medal to make its way through all of the necessary channels, not quite making it in time for Col(Ret) Dal Porto's retirement ceremony.
The rare and prestigious Legion of Merit was presented in front of an assembly of the entire school district and staff. Vi Holland, the District Business Manager, arranged the program without Colonel Dal Porto's knowledge.
When the Colonel walked into the school gym where the assembly took place he was met with a standing ovation.
In his remarks to the student body, Col Dal Porto held up the shadowbox containing the medal for the students to see. "I wish you would see this as a mirror," he said. "A mirror that shows what possibilities are open to everyone of you." He continued by challenging them to consider the infinite possibilities that life may hold for them. Colonel Dal Porto told them about Major General Scoggins' youth that were spent on a farm in Kansas and finished by telling the students that the same opportunities in life are available to them.
The 141st Honor Guard from Fairchild AFB presented the colors. It was a memorable day in the small farming community south of Ritzville, a great reflection on the WA ANG, and a unique and well deserved honor for a beloved gentleman who served his country for more than 30 years.
The Legion of Merit was established by an Act of Congress on the 20th of July, 1942. In Air Force order of precedence, the Legion of Merit is technically the 7th highest award: Congressional Medal of Honor, Air Force Cross, Defense Distinguished Service Medal, Air Force Distinguished Service Medal, Silver Star, Defense Superior Service Medal and the Legion of Merit.
It should be noted, however, that the Defense Distinguished Service Medal and the Defense Superior Service Medal are quite rare, awarded only by the Secretary of Defense, and usually reserved for General Officers who have served as a member of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, or a similar position.
The Congressional Medal of Honor, the Air Force Cross and the Silver Star may only be awarded for service in combat. Therefore the Legion of Merit may be considered the Air Forces' second highest peacetime award, after the Air Force Distinguished Service Medal.
The Legion of Merit is perhaps the closest the United States has come to creating an Order of the European type. It was the first specific decoration approved for foreign recipients, and the first decoration of the United States to be awarded in different degrees as follows:
Rarely is a medal so justly deserved as that awarded to Colonel (Ret) Steven Dal Porto this day.