5 things to know about France's most storied medal

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Posted: Aug 24, 2015 1:48 PM
5 things to know about France's most storied medal

PARIS (AP) — Three Americans and a British businessman were awarded France's highest decoration, the Legion of Honor, or Legion d'Honneur, Monday for subduing a gunman on a high-speed train carrying hundreds of passengers to Paris.

Here's are five things to know about the red-ribboned, five-pronged medal, one of Europe's most storied and colorful awards:

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NAPOLEON'S BRAINCHILD

The medal was first created by Napoleon Bonaparte in 1802 as the dust settled from the French Revolution. The egalitarian-minded revolutionaries abolished all the orders of chivalry that were linked with the nobility and Bonaparte created the new system of awards based on merit, not social status.

The medal itself was designed by French painter Jacques-Louis David.

As emperor, Napoleon always proudly wore the Legion of Honor on his breast.

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AMERICANS HONORED

American movie stars Barbra Streisand, Clint Eastwood, Kirk Douglas and Arnold Schwarzenegger have all been given France's top honor.

Other famous American recipients include singer-songwriter Bob Dylan, actor Robert Redford, novelist Toni Morrison, directors Martin Scorsese and Steven Spielberg, and jazz musician Miles Davis. Medals have also gone to notable figures such as Holocaust survivor Elie Wiesel, economist Alan Greenspan, and former U.S. President Dwight D. Eisenhower.

In 2004, on the 60th anniversary of the Normandy landings, France gave the Legion of Honor to all U.S. veterans who fought on French soil during World War II. According to the website of the French Embassy in Washington, the medal is to "recognize outstanding services rendered to France."

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CONTROVERSIAL RECIPIENTS

The medal has had its fair share of controversy over the years. Last year, Lance Armstrong was stripped of the Legion of Honor that he was awarded in in 2005, the year of the last of his seven consecutive Tour de France victories. He was later stripped of those titles for doping.

Fashion designer John Galliano was also stripped of his medal in 2012 after being convicted of anti-Semitism following a drunken tirade at a Paris bar in 2011.

In 2013, France awarded energy company Novatek's co-founder Gennady Timchenko a medal for his contribution to Franco-Russian economic ties, two years after France's Total struck a deal with them. Timchenko, an ally of Russian President Vladimir Putin, has been on a U.S. sanctions list.

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FIVE LEVELS OF HONOR

The legion of honor has five divisions. Those involved in the train incident — U.S. Airman Spencer Stone, National Guardsman Alek Skarlatos, their friend Anthony Sadler and British businessman Chris Norman — were awarded the lowest grade, "Knight" of the Legion of Honor.

The other four, in order of increasing importance, are "Officer," ''Commander," ''Grand Officer," and, the highest, the "Grand Cross," which features a red sash and a ruby badge.

There is technically a sixth division, the "Grand Master," made up of just one person: President Francois Hollande. All French presidents become "Grand Master" to symbolize their status as head of the legion.

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DRESSING THE PART

Most recipients dress to the occasion, with men appearing in suits and ties for the once-in-a-lifetime event.

Monday's ceremony in the Elysee Palace in Paris was an exception, with social media lighting up about Stone, Skarlatos and Sadler, friends in their early 20s who had been traveling together, receiving the award in unbuttoned polo shirts and khaki pants.

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Follow Thomas Adamson on Twitter: www.twitter.com/ThomasAdamsonAP