Recently George Wilson, this newspaper's Pentagon reporter, had an interesting article in the Sunday magazine section about the decorations worn by the top generals and admirals who lead our armed services.

One decoration caught my eye. Gen. John W. Vessey Jr., chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, wears the Good Conduct Ribbon. That makes Gen. Vessey unique in American military history. He's the first officer to reach the nation's top military position who has the right to wear the only Army medal that can be granted only to enlisted (that is, non-officer) personnel.

Vessey won it during three years of enlisted service during World War II, before winning a battlefield commission. As the proud possessor of a Good Conduct Medal (with cluster), may this confirmed civilian toss a friendly salute to the general?

Vessey, incidentally, is not the first but the third chairman of the joint chiefs to have risen from the rank of private. Air Force Gen. Nathan F. Twining and Army Gen. Earle Wheeler began their military careers in the enlisted ranks (Wheeler in the D.C. National Guard), but both were selected for West Point before they had time to earn the white-striped red ribbon for good enlisted conduct.