June 30: Middletown’s Dean Acheson Awarded Presidential Medal of Merit


On June 30, 1947, President Harry Truman awarded Dean Acheson the Medal for Merit, a special honor given to civilians for “exceptionally meritorious conduct” in service of the Allied powers during World War II.  The Medal for Merit was awarded for a period of ten years, from 1942 – 1952, and during that time it was the highest order of civilian decoration in the United States.

Born and raised in Middletown, Connecticut, Acheson was a precocious student, attending the Groton School, Yale, and then Harvard Law School.  His Ivy League connections help land him at the Department of State in 1941, where he quickly became a leading influence in shaping U.S. foreign policy during World War II and in the early years of the Cold War. Acheson was a primary architect of the Marshall Plan, America’s postwar economic aid program to Europe.  In 1949, he was named Secretary of State by President Harry Truman, and served until 1953.  Acheson wrote the speech that laid the foundation for the Truman administration’s approach to the Cold War (later known as the Truman Doctrine).

Dean Acheson and President Harry S. Truman shake hands following Acheson’s swearing-in ceremony as Secretary of State, January 1949.

Acheson continued to be a major influence on Cold War policy even after his tenure as Secretary of State, penning analyses of the United States’ relationship with China and Korea, and even serving on President John F. Kennedy’s Cuban Missile Crisis committee.  In addition to the Medal for Merit, Dean Acheson received the Presidential Medal of Freedom in 1964 and was awarded the Pulitzer Prize for History for his memoir, Present at the Creation: My Years in the State Department.

Further Reading

Biographies of the Secretaries of State: Dean Gooderham Acheson,” U.S. State Department Office of the Historian