U.S. Post Office Stamp
Tomorrow is Purple Heart Day. I knew very little about this military honor, except that those who were wounded or killed in action were eligible to receive it. I was aware that the award had been created by George Washington, hence the American postage stamp issued in 2014. However, I didn’t really know much else about the Purple Heart. Here is a short history of the Badge of Military Merit and its evolution to become the Purple Heart.
The Badge of Military Merit, the forerunner of today’s Purple Heart, was established by General George Washington, Commander-in-Chief of the colonial forces seeking American independence, on 7 August 1782.
It is said that General Washington presented but three Badges of Military Merit, but others were awarded by his officers. However, after the Revolutionary War, the Badge fell into disuse for another 150 years.
In 1931, General Douglas MacArthur – yes, of World War II fame – revived the Badge, which was redesigned and became known as the Purple Heart. On the bicentennial of George Washington’s birth, 22 February 1932, the first Purple Heart was presented to General MacArthur himself.
Also eligible to receive the Purple Heart were soldiers who had been wounded or killed in action back to 5 April 1917, the day America entered World War I. However, not until 25 April 1962 could the Purple Heart be given posthumously. In 1984, criteria were broadened to included incidents of terrorist attacks.
It is estimated that 1.8 MILLION soldiers have been awarded the Purple Heart.
Did you know that there is a National Purple Heart Hall of Honor? Any recipient or their family can enroll the soldier by providing military documentation of the award.
The Hall of Honor is located at 374 Temple Hill Road (Route 300) in New Windsor, NY and is open six days a week (closed Monday). It features a number of exhibits.
However, if you can’t visit in person, the Honor Roll can be searched online.
A number of famous people have received the Purple Heart, including actors Charles Bronson and James Garner, author Kurt Vonnegut and director Oliver Stone. The first woman to receive the honor was Army Lieutenant Annie G. Fox, chief nurse at Pearl Harbor during the 1941 Japanese attack which brought the United States into World War II. Only one American president has received the award – President John F. Kennedy – for his back injury and heroic actions during World War II.
The Purple Heart is the oldest American military award still presented today. If one of your family members has received this honor and is not enrolled in the National Purple Heart Hall of Honor, then he/she should be. Visit the Hall website for details.
If you are interested in learning more about the Purple Heart, here are some resources:
National Purple Heart Hall of Honor
The Military Order of the Purple Heart
NPR – A History of the Purple Heart
National Museum of the United States Army
U.S. Department of Veteran Affairs