Secretary of the Navy Josephus Daniels to President Woodrow Wilson
July 29, 1918.
My dear Mr. President:
The papers a few days ago published the statement that King George had decorated Rear Admirals Rodman and Straus,1 upon a visit to the squadron, Rodman being made a Knight Commander of the Order of the Bath, and Straus a Knight Commander of St. Michaels and St. George.
This was done <according to the published report> “In acknowledgment of the special appreciation of the King for the part the American Navy is playing in the War”. A few days ago the French Naval Attache2 called at the Navy Department and stated that the Admiralty of his Government wished to decorate Naval Officers. I told him that we highly appreciated this spirit, but that in my view it was not in keeping with the policy of our Government.
The decoration of Rodman and Straus raises the issue directly. There are no two officers in the Navy who are esteemed more highly by me than Rodman and Straus. I personally selected each for the important duty to which they are assigned. Rodman <is> in command of our Dreadnaughts with the British Navy, and Straus <is> in command of the Mine Base and mining activities.
Vice Admiral Sims has refused decorations from the British, French, and Italian governments.3 This is in accordance with Paragraph 8, Section 9, of the Constitution of the United States, which states –
“No title of Nobility shall be granted by the United States: And no Person holding any Office of Profit or Trust under them, shall, without the Consent of the Congress, accept of any present, Emolument, Office, or Title, of any kind whatever, from any King, Prince, or foreign State.”
In this connection I call to your attention an extract from the Army Appropriation Bill, Sixty-Fifth Congress, approved July 9, 1918. (H.R. 12281, Public No. 193)
“That American citizens who have received, since August first, nineteen hundred and fourteen, decorations or medals for distinguished service in the armies or in connection with the field service of those nations engaged in war against the Imperial German Government, shall, on entering the military service of the United States, be permitted to wear such medals or decorations.
That any and all members of the military forces of the United States serving in the present war be, and they are hereby, permitted and authorized to accept during the present war or within one year thereafter, from the Government of any of the countries engaged in war with any country with which the United States is or shall be concurrently likewise engaged in war, such decorations, when tendered, as are conferred by such Government upon the members of its own military forces; and the consent of Congress required therefor by clause eight of section nine of Article I of the Constitution is hereby expressly granted: Provided, That any officer or enlisted man of the military forces of the United States is hereby authorized to accept and wear any medal or decoration heretofore bestowed by the Government of any of the nations concurrently engaged with the States in the present war.
That the President is authorized, under regulations to be prescribed by him, to confer such medals and decorations as may be authorized in the military service of the United States upon officers and enlisted men of the military forces of the countries concurrently engaged with the United States in the present war.”
It is presumed that if Admirals Rodman and Straus accepted the decorations above referred to, they did so under the impression that the extract from the Army Appropriation Bill, referred to above, permitted them to do so. No such extract appears in any of the Navy appropriation bills.
In effect, it would appear that the Army may now receive decorations and the Navy may not. I do not deem it a desirable thing for our officers to accept decorations from foreign governments, but believe that a consistent attitude should be adopted. The receipt of decorations from foreign governments would act as a <discrimination>
hardship on many of the officers and men serving in the War, who by the very nature of the important duties given them, could not be placed in the fortunate position where they might receive decorations. It also may mean that some of our officers may be decorated by a foreign state before recognition of service has been given by our own country.
It brings up the question of a general policy, that is, the policy of the Government rather than of the several services under it. When Admiral Sims refuses a decoration, he did so because, as he views it, it is not the policy of this Government to permit acceptance. When General Pershing accepts a decoration, he does so because, in accordance with the provisions of the Army Bill, he is permitted to accept such decoration.
In view of the above, it would appear desirable to settle the issues so that the governments of the countries concurrently engaged with the United States in the War nay adopt a like attitude to the armed forces, military and naval, of the United States.
Source Note: LTS, DLC-MSS, Josephus Daniels Papers, Special Correspondence, Roll 65. At the top of the first page appears a handwritten note, “Not sent but taken to Cabinet Meeting.” As noted in his personal diary for the entry on the following day, Daniels “brought up action of King of England in decorating Rodman and Strauss & advocated their non-acceptance Sentiment was they could not be returned but the Secy. Of State [Robert Lansing] should inform European governments this Gov. did not desire such decorations to be given. I telegraphed Sims and approved his declination to accept tender from Italy”; DLC-MSS, Josephus Daniels Papers, Diaries, Reel 1.
Footnote 1: King George V; Hugh Rodman, Commander, Battleship Division Nine, Atlantic Fleet; and Joseph Strauss, Commander, United States Mine Force.
Footnote 2: Cmdr. Bernard A. de Blanpré.
Footnote 3: William S. Sims, Commander, United States Naval Forces Operating in European Waters. Sims had previously refused decorations from these governments, but, with the passage of the Army Appropriation Bill (quoted below), felt it permissible-despite some personal worries and misgivings-to accept a Knighthood in the Order of the Cross of St. Michael and St. George, permission for which RAdm. Leigh C. Palmer, Chief of the Bureau of Navigation communicated in a cablegram dated 18 July 1918. Sims felt the same about the decorations given to Strauss and Rodman, as well as those conferred upon officials in the Army (Maj. Gen. John J. Pershing, Maj Gen. Tasker H. Bliss, and Gen. Payton C. March). For more of Sims’ thoughts on this matter, see: Sims to Anne Hitchcock Sims, 22 July 1918 and Sims to Sims, 3 August 1918.