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Cross, Pour le Mérite.
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Replica of the Pour le Mérite German Cross.
The "Pour le Merite" ("for merit"), otherwise known by its unofficial title, "The Blue Max" (in German, "Blauer Max"), was Prussia's highest military award until the end of World War I, envied by pilots and perhaps the equivalent of the U.S. Medal of Honor. It was invented in 1740 and was named in French, the language of the royal court.
Its most famous recipients were German fighter pilots, to whom it would be awarded after a pilot downed 8 enemy aircraft (the number of aircraft downed needed to win the award continued to increase during the war; eventually it became 16, then 18 - which is when Richthofen recieved his - and then 20 downed enemy aircraft). Max Immelmann was the first to recieve the award.
Notable recipients included Field Marshal Leonhard Graf von Blumenthal, Manfred von Richthofen, better known as the "Red Baron", Hermann Göring, who flew with the Red Baron and later to become one of the most senior leaders of the Third Reich, Erwin Rommel, the famed "Desert Fox" of WWII, and Paul von Lettow-Vorbeck , who led German forces in the guerrilla campaign in German East Africa. The last living holder of the Pour le Mérite was novelist Ernst Jünger who died in 1998 and who, at the age of 23, was the youngest ever recipient as well.
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