As Secretary of the Navy John L. Sullivan called Fred M. Vinson to the podium to receive a the Legion's Distinguished Service Medal, he praised him for serving his country during World War I, and as being one of the Legion's own. Upon returning home, Vinson helped organize W.O. Johnson Post 89 in Louisa, Ky., and became its first post commander.
The Legion "honors itself in honoring a man whose service in the legislative, executive and judicial departments of this government has never been surpassed in American history," Sullivan said. "This award is conferred upon you, however, not because of the positions you have held. It comes to you because, throughout the last 26 years, in all your positions of trust and responsibility, you have labored intelligently and unceasingly to prove that democracy is not only the best form of government, but that it can be made the most efficient as well as the most just."
Vinson's service in World War I was the prelude to a long public-service career that started in Congress and ended as chief justice of the Supreme Court.
In 1924, Vinson entered the House of Representatives as a Democratic representative from Kentucky. He served until 1938, excepting one two-year term when he was defeated for re-election. In 1938, Vinson began his tenure on the federal bench when President Roosevelt tapped him for the appellate court in the D.C. District. In 1943, Roosevelt named him director of the Office of Economic Stabilization.
Later, President Truman tapped Vinson to serve as secretary of the Treasury, and about a year later appointed him to the Supreme Court, where he served until his death in 1953, at 63.
Vinson's obituary in The New York Times paints a picture of a jurist who excelled at making fair decisions: "In all three fields (branches of government) he distinguished himself by the exercise of his most characteristic quality: his exceptional ability as a negotiator, a troubleshooter, a reconciler of conflicting views, a man who could reduce warring factions to at least outward harmony and so get things done."
For more on Vinson, click here (http://bioguide.congress.gov/scripts/biodisplay.pl?index=V000106).