Just two years after the birth of The American Legion, its founders saw fit to award a Distinguished Service Medal as tribute to those who made great contributions to veterans. The first award, presented in 1921 at the Legion's national convention, could not be limited to one individual. Instead, five were presented to recognize the importance of Allied forces in the victorious battles of World War I.
Beginning in 1921, the Legion has bestowed medals on men, women and groups from all walks of life who the Legion considers to have offered "outstanding service to the nation and to the ideals of The American Legion." Celebrities such as Bob Hope, legislators such as Sen. Strom Thurmond, military leaders such as 2009 winner Gen. David Petraeus, the average GI Joe such as all the dead and missing of the Vietnam War, and many others have been presented with a medallion and plaque at the national convention each year, after nomination either from the national commander or by department action.
Kentucky continued this honor at the Department level and in 1963, started a Department Distinguished Service Award for those Legionnaires that have demonstrated a commitment to American Legion values and service to Department programs and initiatives. Kentucky recognizes two individuals each year, one award for a living recipient and one posthumorous award. Individuals are selected by the outgoing Department Commander each year with the awards being presented at the annual Department Convention in June.