On July 6, 2019, Henry L. Gaidis, one of the two Lithuanian American Council (LAC) representatives to the Joint Baltic American National Committee (JBANC) and current Chairman of its Board of Directors, was honored by President Dalia Grybaskaite by confirming upon him the Cross of the Knight of the Order for Merit to Lithuania (Ordino „Už nuopelnus Lietuvai“ Riterio kryžius). The presentation was made alongside nearly thirty other Lithuanian and foreign award recipients at the Presidential Palace in Vilnius, Lithuania, during the nation’s annual State Day Ceremonies in commemoration of the 1253 coronation of Lithuanian King Mindaugas. Mindgaugas was the founder of the first independent Lithuanian State.
The Lithuanian Order of Merit was established on June 18, 2002, as an official State Award for special merits in Lithuania’s name through fostering and developing cross-border relations, offering humanitarian aid to Lithuania, and recognizing special merits in public service, culture, science and education, business and manufacturing, health and social security, warfare, sports, and economics. The award is conferred in five classes and presented to both Lithuanian citizens and foreign national recipients.
Recommended candidates for the Order are presented by the President to the Speaker of the Seimas and his deputies, the Prime Minister and various members of the government for review. Submissions must be made no later than two months before the award date to the Chancellor of the Order containing a biography of the candidate, a description of his or her merits, details of previous state awards, an indication of the award, and a copy of the identity document. Such decoration is awarded biannually, on February 16th (Lithuanian Independence Day) and July 6th (Lithuanian State Day). Gaidis was awarded his decoration for being an advocate for the preservation of military history, Lithuanian traditions, and the history of the United States.
The Order of Merit badge consists of a five pointed gold trimmed white enamel cross adorned with sun rays, upon which an oxidized silver Vytis (Lithuanian National Symbol) emblem is superimposed. The Knight’s Cross award badge hangs from a red ribbon with two yellow and green stripes at each edge, with a suspending gold oval wreath containing a Pillar of Gediminas center (this indicates that the cross was awarded for his Lithuanian State Service and Cross-Border relations). The reverse of the badge bears the award number; coats of arms of Vilnius, Kaunas, Klaipėda, Šiauliai and Panevėžys on its various cross tips of the cross; and the inscription “Pro Lituania” and the order establishment year “2002” in its center.
President Grybaskaite began the awarding ceremony with a short address about the importance of the Coronation of Lithuanian King Mindaugas national holiday and then confirmed and assembled the award recipients. Other recipients at the event were Irena Degutienė, the Deputy Speaker of the Lithuanian Seimas, and Anne Hall, the U.S. Ambassador to Lithuania for the past three years. Grybaskaite paid special tribute to Ambassador Hall and commented on how important America was to the Republic of Lithuania. The recipients were then called forth one at a time to the front of the great ceremony room and were decorated by President Grybaskaite.
Other guests attending the event included many dignitaries such as Vytautas Landsbergis, the Chairman of the Supreme Council of Lithuanian (de jure Head of State), and Lieutenant General Jonas Zukas, the Lithuanian Chief of Defense. After the presentation, the recipients and guests were hosted at a reception and invited to attend the Lithuanian State Day ceremony in the Presidential Palace Courtyard. Former President Valdas Adamkus and the new Lithuanian President Elect Gitanas Nausede attended the ceremony which featured a raising of the Lithuanian flag, a military troop review and honor guard ceremony, a fighter plane flyer over, and a Lithuanian folk dance presentation.
All in all, this was a very festive celebration, which was followed by a State Mass at the Vilnius Cathedral.