Purple Heart

Purple Heart

George Washington creates the Purple Heart

On August 7, 1782, in Newburgh, New York, General George Washington, the commander in chief of the Continental Army, creates the “Badge for Military Merit,” a decoration consisting of a purple, heart-shaped piece of silk, edged with a narrow binding of silver, with the word Merit ...read more

History of the Purple Heart

In 1782 Gen. George Washington created the Badge of Military Merit to recognize heroic acts by his troops. The requirements for earning the badge were a lot different from today’s Purple Heart. Soldiers had to do something unusually heroic or perform some act that was essential to the success of the Continental Army. While that sounds more like something you’d have to do to earn the Medal of Honor, the badge was actually a cloth purple heart with the word “merit” stitched across it in white. So, in a way, both the Medal of Honor and the Purple Heart came from the Badge of Military Merit.

One thing that made the badge different was that it was the first award meant for enlisted troops. Before this, the only way to recognize heroism by an enlisted soldier was to promote him, or for a general to give him a battlefield commission.

No one knows for sure how many soldiers ever received the Badge of Military Merit, though it could be as few as three. And the book in which recipients’ names were recorded has been lost for more than 200 years.

Washington’s order was allowed to lapse after the war ended and the Purple Heart wasn’t revived until Feb. 22, 1932, on Washington’s 200th birthday. Designed by Elizabeth Will, an Army heraldic specialist, the modern medal features a profile image of Washington. Once again, the medal was awarded for meritorious service, but now soldiers could also receive it if they’d been wounded by the enemy.

At first, the Purple Heart was only available to soldiers, but in 1942 Congress changed the rules for earning the award, authorizing it only for wounds, and made it available to all services, including some civilians. Civilians who worked with the military, like Red Cross workers or war reporters, remained eligible for the award until 1997. Civilian employees of the Defense Department who are killed or wounded by an enemy now receive the Defense of Freedom Medal.

During World War 2 (but also in Korea and in Vietnam), the “Purple Heart” was often awarded on the spot, with occasional entries made into the Official Service Records, although this was more often not the case! It should be noted that, in addition to the above, a number of field commanders would sometimes engage in “bedside presentations” of the Medal. This would typically entail a local Commander or a General Officer entering a Hospital Ward with a box of Purple Hearts, pinning them on the chests or on the pillows of wounded servicemen, and then departing with no official records kept of the visit or of the awarded persons.

Posthumous awards were sent to the relatives or next-of-kin of a deceased member of the Armed Forces, who could then display the decoration in any manner desired, but were not authorized to wear it.

In the early 1960s the award criteria for the Purple Heart changed again under John F. Kennedy. Since Kennedy recognized that the Purple Heart should be awarded to uniformed personnel who were shedding blood in South Vietnam, he signed an executive order on April 25, 1962 that permitted the Purple Heart to be awarded to any person wounded or killed “while serving with friendly foreign forces” or “as a result of action by a hostile foreign force.” By 1973, when the last U.S. combat forces withdrew from Vietnam, thousands upon thousands of Americans wounded or killed in Southeast Asia had been awarded the Purple Heart.

The next major changes to the Purple Heart occurred in February 1984, when President Ronald Reagan recognized the changing nature of war and signed Executive Order 12464. This order announced that the Purple Heart could now be awarded to those killed or wounded as a result of an “international terrorist attack against the United States.” Reagan also decided that the Purple Heart should be awarded to individuals killed or wounded “outside the territory of the United States” while serving “as part of a peacekeeping mission.” As a result of Reagan’s decision, a small number of soldiers in uniform received the Purple Heart who otherwise would have been denied the medal.

Finally, the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq caused the most recent changes to the Purple Heart’s award criteria. On April 25, 2011, the Defense Department announced that the decoration now could be awarded to servicemen and women who sustained “mild traumatic brain injuries and concussive injuries” in combat. This decision was based on the recognition that brain injuries caused by improvised explosive devices (IEDs) qualify as wounds, even though such brain injuries may be invisible.

As war evolves so too do the requirements for obtaining the Purple Heart. For example, a recent law passed by Congress permits the award of the Purple Heart for some domestic terrorist incidents. While today’s Purple Heart medal looks exactly the same as it did in 1932, General MacArthur would certainly be surprised to see how much the criteria for awarding it has changed.

More than 1.5 million American men and women have been awarded the Purple Heart since 1932.

About 1.07 million Purple Hearts were awarded during World War II, more than were awarded in all of the other conflicts of the 20th century combined.

One of the most famous civilians to earn the Purple Heart was Ernie Pyle, a war correspondent who covered World War II from the trenches of Europe before being killed in the Battle of Okinawa.

Audie Murphy received the Purple Heart three times during World War II. He also received every combat award for valor available from the Army -- including the Medal of Honor -- as well as French and Belgian awards for heroism.

The Purple Heart is also known as the nation's oldest military award. Although it has changed in title and use over the years, its roots can be traced back to the Badge of Military Merit ordered by then General George Washington on August 7, 1782. That's why the gold medal on a purple ribbon bears the profile of Washington.

An estimated 1.8 million Purple Hearts have been awarded to U.S. troops.

Today Purple Heart recipients are celebrated annually on August 7, which has been designated as Purple Heart Day.

Purple Heart - HISTORY

On August 7, 1782, General George Washington designed the Badge of Military Merit in the figure of a heart in purple cloth or silk with a narrow lace or binding. It signified “any meritorious action.” On this date in history, General Washington wrote in his orderly book:

“The road to glory in a patriot army and a free country is thus open to all. This order is also to have retrospect to the earliest stages of the war, and to be considered a permanent one.”

After the Revolutionary War, no American soldiers received the Badge of Military Merit. It was not until 1932, under the direction of General Douglas MacArthur, that this distinctive award was renamed the Purple Heart. The conditions under which the award could be bestowed were also rewritten to include wounds received in action with an enemy.

Shortly after the award was re-instituted, a group of combat wounded veterans in Asonia, Connecticut formed the first fraternal chapter of what is now the Military Order of the Purple Heart. The organization has grown rapidly since WWII and is now a nation-wide body of dedicated men and women who are recipients of this distinguished military decoration. The Military Order of the Purple Heart of the U.S.A., Inc. founded in 1932, was congressionally chartered on August 26, 1958.

The Order maintains a national headquarters in Springfield, Virginia and has chapters throughout the United States. The organization represents veteran's interests before Congress, the Department of Labor, and Department of Veterans Affairs and on the state and local level.

The National Service Program provides free assistance and representation for all veterans, their survivors and dependents. National and volunteer service officers are accredited by the Department of Veterans Affairs.

Featured Recipients

Sergeant Cari Gasiewicz was an Arab language linguist serving in a military intelligence unit. Her language and cultural skills made her respected by the Iraqis and her dedication as a soldier garnered her respect from her peers. Her unit was being redeployed out of Iraq to Kuwait. She was driving a supply truck on 4 December 2004 when her vehicle was hit by two I.E.D.s. She was the only fatality.

Ensign Jesse L. Brown was the first African American naval aviator. While flying a mission 4 December 1950 his aircraft was hit, causing him to crash land in enemy territory. He was severely wounded and trapped in the cockpit. His wingman landed near him and tried to rescue Ensign Brown, but to no avail. Brown died shortly after and the following day fellow pilots dropped napalm on Brown's plane to provide him a "warrior's funeral". His body was never recovered.

1 st Lieutenant Wright was co-pilot in the lead helicopter on a mission to Laos 21 January 1972 when his helicopter was struck by ground fire. The helicopter crash landed in the Hoi An river and Lt. Wright was trapped in the wreckage. He pushed himself through the sliding window in the door, rising to the surface with the cockpit door wrapped around his head and shoulders.

History and Meaning of the Purple Heart

Like all military medals, the Purple Heart is earned through acts of valor, bravery, courage, and fearlessness. Being awarded the Purple Heart Medal is an unforgettable experience intertwined with history, tradition, and a remembrance of the sacrifices for our country.

The Purple Heart is awarded to troops that have been wounded, killed, by enemy fire, or were a former Prisoner or War. Purple Heart recipients have unique stories and experiences that are memorable and unforgettable. The stories are deep and personal and can move you to tears in an instant.

Recognizing and honoring the dignity of the service is important for civilians, veterans, retired military, and active duty alike.

While these plants are popular for pots and hanging baskets, because of their hardiness they are also sometimes employed as ground cover plantings. If used as a ground cover, Tradescantia pallida species should be approached with caution. That&aposs because the most vigorous types can become invasive. Be sure to choose a less rambling type and be an attentive gardener to keep it corralled in your yard. Deer usually ignore these plants and aren&apost known to browse them in the garden.

Beyond purple heart plant, other Tradescantia species are also popular plantings in the region. Tradescantia pallida ‘Variegata&apos produces striped pink-and-red foliage. It can be used in pots or as ground cover, and it thrives in full sun with moderate water. T. spathacea (Rhoeo spathacea) has sword-shaped purple-and-green foliage. T. virginiana, a Southern classic, is also known as spiderwort. Its foliage has a grassy appearance, and it produces short-lived flowers in a rainbow of shades, many of which bloom for only one day.

Do you have any purple heart plants in your garden? What are your favorite plants for pots and hanging baskets?

Purple Heart History

The Purple Heart is awarded to members of the armed forces of the U.S. who are wounded by an instrument of war in the hands of the enemy, and posthumously to the next of kin in the name of those killed in action or those who died of wounds received in action. It is specifically a combat decoration.

The Purple Heart is an American decoration-the oldest military decoration in the world in present use and the first American award made available to the common soldier. It was initially created as the Badge of Military Merit by one of the world’s most famed and best-loved heroes-General George Washington. General Washington is often pictured as a cold, stern soldier, a proud aristocrat. Yet we know he showed sympathy and concern for his troops, and was not too proud to pray humbly on his knees for his beloved country and for the men who served it, and him, so bravely and loyally. His keen appreciation of the importance of the common soldier in any campaign impelled him to recognize outstanding valor and merit by granting a commission or an advance in rank to deserving individuals. In the summer of 1782 he was ordered by the Continental Congress to cease doing so. There were no funds to pay the soldiers, much less the officers!

Deprived of his usual means of reward, he must have searched for a substitute. Shortly after receiving the “stop” order from Congress, he wrote his memorable General Orders of August 7, 1782, which read in part as follows:

“The General, ever desirous to cherish virtuous ambition in his soldiers as well as foster and encourage every species of military merit, directs that whenever any singularly meritorious action is performed, the author of it shall be permitted to wear on his facings, over his left breast, the figure of a heart in purple cloth or silk edged with narrow lace or binding. Not only instances of unusual gallantry but also of extraordinary fidelity and essential service in any way shall meet with due reward. The name and regiment of the persons so certified are to be enrolled in a Book of Merit which shall be kept in the orderly room.” The order further states: “Men who have merited this distinction to be suffered to pass all guards and sentinels which officers are permitted to do. The order to be retroactive to the earliest stages of the war, and to be a permanent one.” Washington ended his order with: “The road to glory in a patriot army and a free country is thus open to all.”

Although general Washington intended the forerunner of today’s Purple Heart to be bestowed “whenever any singular meritorious action is performed,” only three soldiers of the American Revolution were awarded this medal. Sergeant Elijah Churchill, 2nd Regiment, Light Dragoons, was awarded the Badge for his part in two successful raids behind enemy lines. In November 1780, leading only 16 men, he was able to capture and destroy the heavily manned British fortifications at Corum, New York. Not only did they burn 300 tons of hay, they also burned a British schooner and captured 50 prisoners. The second raid was on Fort Slongo in October 1781, Churchill’s unit, without the loss of a single man, captured and destroyed the fort in less than 24 hours.

The badge was awarded to Sergeant William brown, 5th Connecticut Regiment, for leading an advance party who, using only bayonets, penetrated the British fortifications at yorktown, Virginia on October 14, 1781. Although challenged by enemy gunfire and grenades, Brown’s unit drove the British from their positions in only 15 minutes.

The last badge was awarded to Sergeant Daniel Bissell, 2nd Connecticut regiment, for masquerading as a British soldier from August 1781 to September 1782. The information he gathered helped prepare for the American-French attack on the City of New York.

With the American Revolution over and the Army disbanded, the Badge of Military Merit passed into history until February 22, 1932, the 200th anniversary of Washington’s birth.

The U.S. War Department revived the Purple Heart decoration on February 22, 1932. On that date, General Douglas MacArthur, then War department chief of Staff, announced the restoration of the Purple Heart for use by the United states Army.

Elizabeth Will of the Office of the Quartermaster General is credited with the 1932 design of the medal. The revived form of the Purple Heart is of metal, instead of perishable cloth, made in the shape of a rich purple heart bordered with gold, with a bust of Washington in the center and the Washington coat-of-arms at the top. The Washington coat-of-arms is believed to have been the source of the stars and stripes of the American Flag.

The Purple Heart is awarded to members of the armed forces of the U.S. who are wounded by an instrument of war in the hands of the enemy and posthumously to the next of kin in the name of those who are killed in action or die of wounds received in action. It is specifically a combat decoration.

An organization now known as the “Military Order of the Purple Heart,” was formed in 1932 for the protection and mutual interest of all who have received the decoration. Composed exclusively of Purple Heart recipients, it is the only veterans service organization comprised strictly of “combat” veterans


The original Purple Heart, designated as the Badge of Military Merit, was established by George Washington – then the commander-in-chief of the Continental Army – by order from his Newburgh, New York headquarters on August 7, 1782. The Badge of Military Merit was only awarded to three Revolutionary War soldiers by Washington himself. Washington authorized his subordinate officers to issue Badges of Merit as appropriate. Although never abolished, the award of the badge was not proposed again officially until after World War I. [7] [8]

On October 10, 1927, Army Chief of Staff General Charles Pelot Summerall directed that a draft bill be sent to Congress "to revive the Badge of Military Merit". The bill was withdrawn and action on the case ceased January 3, 1928, but the office of the Adjutant General was instructed to file all materials collected for possible future use. A number of private interests sought to have the medal re-instituted in the Army this included the board of directors of the Fort Ticonderoga Museum in Ticonderoga, New York.

On January 7, 1931, Summerall's successor, General Douglas MacArthur, confidentially reopened work on a new design, involving the Washington Commission of Fine Arts. Elizabeth Will, an Army heraldic specialist in the Office of the Quartermaster General, was named to redesign the newly revived medal, which became known as the Purple Heart. Using general specifications provided to her, Will created the design sketch for the present medal of the Purple Heart. The new design, which exhibits a bust and profile of George Washington, was issued on the bicentennial of Washington's birth. Will's obituary, in the edition of February 8, 1975 of The Washington Post newspaper, reflects her many contributions to military heraldry.

The Commission of Fine Arts solicited plaster models from three leading sculptors for the medal, selecting that of John R. Sinnock of the Philadelphia Mint in May 1931. By Executive Order of the President of the United States, the Purple Heart was revived on the 200th Anniversary of George Washington's birth, out of respect to his memory and military achievements, by War Department General Order No. 3, dated February 22, 1932.

The criteria were announced in a War Department circular dated February 22, 1932, and authorized award to soldiers, upon their request, who had been awarded the Meritorious Service Citation Certificate, Army Wound Ribbon, or were authorized to wear Wound Chevrons subsequent to April 5, 1917, the day before the United States entered World War I. The first Purple Heart was awarded to MacArthur. During the early period of American involvement in World War II (December 8, 1941 – September 22, 1943), the Purple Heart was awarded both for wounds received in action against the enemy and for meritorious performance of duty. With the establishment of the Legion of Merit, by an Act of Congress, the practice of awarding the Purple Heart for meritorious service was discontinued. By Executive Order 9277, dated December 3, 1942, the decoration was applied to all services the order required reasonable uniform application of the regulations for each of the Services. This executive order also authorized the award only for wounds received. For both military and civilian personnel during the World War II era, to meet eligibility for the Purple Heart, AR 600–45, dated September 22, 1943, and May 3, 1944, required identification of circumstances.

After the award was re-authorized in 1932 some U.S. Army wounded from conflicts prior to the first World War applied for, and were awarded, the Purple Heart: ". veterans of the Civil War and Indian Wars, as well as the Spanish–American War, China Relief Expedition (Boxer Rebellion), and Philippine Insurrection also were awarded the Purple Heart. This is because the original regulations governing the award of the Purple Heart, published by the Army in 1932, provided that any soldier who had been wounded in any conflict involving U.S. Army personnel might apply for the new medal. There were but two requirements: the applicant had to be alive at the time of application (no posthumous awards were permitted) and he had to prove that he had received a wound that necessitated treatment by a medical officer." [9]

Subject to approval of the Secretary of Defense, Executive Order 10409, dated February 12, 1952, revised authorizations to include the Service Secretaries. Dated April 25, 1962, Executive Order 11016, included provisions for posthumous award of the Purple Heart. Dated February 23, 1984, Executive Order 12464, authorized award of the Purple Heart as a result of terrorist attacks, or while serving as part of a peacekeeping force, subsequent to March 28, 1973.

On June 13, 1985, the Senate approved an amendment to the 1985 Defense Authorization Bill, which changed the precedence of the Purple Heart award, from immediately above the Good Conduct Medal to immediately above the Meritorious Service Medals. Public Law 99-145 authorized the award for wounds received as a result of friendly fire. Public Law 104-106 expanded the eligibility date, authorizing award of the Purple Heart to a former prisoner of war who was wounded after April 25, 1962. The National Defense Authorization Act for Fiscal Year 1998 (Public Law 105-85) changed the criteria to delete authorization for award of the Purple Heart to any non-military U.S. national serving under competent authority in any capacity with the Armed Forces. This change was effective May 18, 1998. [10]

During World War II, 1,506,000 Purple Heart medals were manufactured, many in anticipation of the estimated casualties resulting from the planned Allied invasion of Japan. By the end of the war, even accounting for medals lost, stolen or wasted, nearly 500,000 remained. To the present date, total combined American military casualties of the seventy years following the end of World War II—including the Korean and Vietnam Wars—have not exceeded that number. In 2000, there remained 120,000 Purple Heart medals in stock. The existing surplus allowed combat units in Iraq and Afghanistan to keep Purple Hearts on-hand for immediate award to soldiers wounded in the field. [11]

The "History" section of the November 2009 edition of National Geographic estimated the number of Purple Hearts given. Above the estimates, the text reads, "Any tally of Purple Hearts is an estimate. Awards are often given during conflict records aren't always exact" (page 33). [5] The estimates are as follows:

    : 320,518 : 1,076,245 : 118,650 : 351,794 : 607 : 12,534 (as of November 18, 2018) [12] : 35,411 (as of November 18, 2018) [12] : 76 (as of May 4, 2020) [13][14] , MINUSMA super camp attack: 2 (As of April 14, 2018 [update] ) [15]

August 7 of every year is recognized as "National Purple Heart Day." [16]

The Purple Heart is awarded in the name of the President of the United States to any member of the Armed Forces of the United States who, while serving under competent authority in any capacity with one of the U.S. Armed Services after April 5, 1917, has been wounded or killed. Specific examples of services which warrant the Purple Heart includes:

a) any action against an enemy of the United States b) any action with an opposing armed force of a foreign country in which the Armed Forces of the United States are or have been engaged c) while serving with friendly foreign forces engaged in an armed conflict against an opposing armed force in which the United States is not a belligerent party d) as a result of an act of any such enemy or opposing armed forces or e) as a result of an act of any hostile foreign force.

The two letters c) and e) were added by Executive Order 11016 on April 25, 1962, as U.S. service personnel were being sent to South Vietnam during the Vietnam War as military advisors rather than combatants. As many were being killed or wounded while serving in that capacity in South Vietnam, and because the United States was not formally a participant of the war (until 1965), there was no "enemy" to satisfy the requirement of a wound or death received "in action against an enemy". In response, President John F. Kennedy signed the executive order that awarded to any person wounded or killed "while serving with friendly foreign forces" or "as a result of action by a hostile foreign force". [17]

After March 28, 1973, it may be awarded as a result of an international terrorist attack against the United States or a foreign nation friendly to the United States, recognized as such an attack by the Secretary of the Army, or jointly by the Secretaries of the separate armed services concerned if persons from more than one service are wounded in the attack. Also, it may be awarded as a result of military operations while serving outside the territory of the United States as part of a peacekeeping force. [18]

The Purple Heart differs from most other decorations in that an individual is not "recommended" for the decoration rather he or she is entitled to it upon meeting specific criteria. A Purple Heart is awarded for the first wound suffered under conditions indicated above, but for each subsequent award an oak leaf cluster or 5/16 inch star is worn in lieu of another medal. Not more than one award will be made for more than one wound or injury received at the same instant.

A "wound" is defined as an injury to any part of the body from an outside force or agent sustained under one or more of the conditions listed above. A physical lesion is not required however, the wound for which the award is made must have required treatment by a medical officer and records of medical treatment for wounds or injuries received in action must have been made a matter of official record. When contemplating an award of this decoration, the key issue that commanders must take into consideration is the degree to which the enemy caused the injury. The fact that the proposed recipient was participating in direct or indirect combat operations is a necessary prerequisite, but is not sole justification for award. The Purple Heart is not awarded for non-combat injuries. [18]

Enemy-related injuries which justify the award of the Purple Heart include: injury caused by enemy bullet, shrapnel, or other projectile created by enemy action injury caused by enemy placed land mine, naval mine, or trap injury caused by enemy released chemical, biological, or nuclear agent injury caused by vehicle or aircraft accident resulting from enemy fire and, concussion injuries caused as a result of enemy generated explosions.

Injuries or wounds which do not qualify for award of the Purple Heart include frostbite or trench foot injuries heat stroke food poisoning not caused by enemy agents chemical, biological, or nuclear agents not released by the enemy battle fatigue disease not directly caused by enemy agents accidents, to include explosive, aircraft, vehicular, and other accidental wounding not related to or caused by enemy action self-inflicted wounds (e.g., a soldier accidentally or intentionally fires their own gun and the bullet strikes his or her leg), except when in the heat of battle, and not involving gross negligence post-traumatic stress disorders [19] and jump injuries not caused by enemy action.

It is not intended that such a strict interpretation of the requirement for the wound or injury to be caused by direct result of hostile action be taken that it would preclude the award being made to deserving personnel. Commanders must also take into consideration the circumstances surrounding an injury, even if it appears to meet the criteria. In the case of an individual injured while making a parachute landing from an aircraft that had been brought down by enemy fire or, an individual injured as a result of a vehicle accident caused by enemy fire, the decision will be made in favor of the individual and the award will be made. As well, individuals wounded or killed as a result of "friendly fire" in the "heat of battle" will be awarded the Purple Heart as long as the "friendly" projectile or agent was released with the full intent of inflicting damage or destroying enemy troops or equipment. Individuals injured as a result of their own negligence, such as by driving or walking through an unauthorized area known to have been mined or placed off limits or searching for or picking up unexploded munitions as war souvenirs, will not be awarded the Purple Heart as they clearly were not injured as a result of enemy action, but rather by their own negligence.

Animals are generally not eligible for the Purple Heart however, there have been rare instances when animals holding military rank were honored with the award. An example includes the horse Sergeant Reckless during the Korean War.

Former eligibility Edit

From 1942 to 1997, non-military personnel serving or closely affiliated with the armed forces—as government employees, Red Cross workers, war correspondents, and the like—were eligible to receive the Purple Heart whether in peacetime or armed conflicts. Among the earliest to receive the award were nine Honolulu Fire Department (HFD) firefighters killed or wounded in peacetime while fighting fires at Hickam Field during the attack on Pearl Harbor. [20] About 100 men and women received the award, the most famous being newspaperman Ernie Pyle who was awarded a Purple Heart posthumously by the Army after being killed by Japanese machine gun fire in the Pacific Theater, near the end of World War II. Before his death, Pyle had seen and experienced combat in the European Theater, while accompanying and writing about infantrymen for the folks back home. [21] Those serving in the Merchant Marine are not eligible for the award. During World War II, members of this service who met the Purple Heart criteria received a Merchant Marine Mariner's Medal instead.

The most recent Purple Hearts presented to non-military personnel occurred after the terrorist attacks at Khobar Towers, Saudi Arabia, in 1996—for their injuries, about 40 U.S. civil service employees received the award.

However, in 1997, at the urging of the Military Order of the Purple Heart, Congress passed legislation prohibiting future awards of the Purple Heart to non-military personnel. Civilian employees of the U.S. Department of Defense who are killed or wounded as a result of hostile action may receive the new Defense of Freedom Medal. This award was created shortly after the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001.

The Purple Heart award is a heart-shaped medal within a gold border, 1 + 3 ⁄ 8 inches (35 mm) wide, containing a profile of General George Washington. Above the heart appears a shield of the coat of arms of George Washington (a white shield with two red bars and three red stars in chief) between sprays of green leaves. The reverse consists of a raised bronze heart with the words FOR MILITARY MERIT below the coat of arms and leaves.

The Complex History of the Purple Heart

Sarah Corry is the Executive Director of Purple Hearts Reunited and the proud daughter of a Marine Vietnam Veteran and two-time Purple Heart recipient. She resides with her two children, Andrew and Claire, in Vermont.

"Grandpa's heart is purple?" My son asked with a bewildered look on his face. "Why isn't it red?"

Andrew, five years old at the time, overheard my conversation with my father, a Marine Corps Vietnam War Veteran, discussing how grateful my brothers and I are to have my dad's two Purple Hearts in our possession to share and pass down to our children.

As I sat with my son and showed him the two tangible symbols of sacrifice his grandfather made for our country, I was overcome with emotion. This moment with my son was not only precious to me as a mom, but deepened the commitment I have for my role as executive director of Purple Hearts Reunited.

Our mission of returning lost or stolen military medals of valor to veterans or their families is something I have always been passionate about but until this moment, my experience of reuniting medals with families was with my Executive Director hat on. Now I view each one as a proud daughter and grateful mother.

I share this story with you today, on National Purple Heart Day. This day honors families who represent our nation's heroes from World War I, World War II, Korea, Vietnam, and the War on Terror. When servicemen and women are wounded or sacrifice their life in times of war, our country awards the service member or their family with the prestigious Purple Heart.

An estimated 1.8 million Purple Hearts have been awarded in our Nation's history. Over time, many of these medals become lost, stolen, or simply misplaced and we have the tremendous honor of bringing them home.

The original Purple Heart, designated as the Badge of Military Merit, was established by George Washington -- then the commander-in-chief of the Continental Army. From then on, as its legend grew, so did its appearance. Although never abolished, the award of the badge was not proposed again officially until after World War I. General Douglas MacArthur, commissioned work of a new design and the Purple Heart was revived on the 200th Anniversary of George Washington's birth by Executive Order of the President of the United States on February 22, 1932.

As I sit here with my son and share the stories of those heroes we are honoring this year, I am completely overwhelmed by their sacrifice to this country.

Men like 1st Sergeant Fred Mueller who was killed on "D-Day" over Normandy with the famed 101st Airborne Division.

Soldiers and Marines like Private First Class Joseph M. Hish and Captain Sebert N. Perry who fought on the hallowed grounds of the Meuse-Argonne and Belleau Woods one hundred years ago during the Great War.

A lost husband and father in Chief Quartermaster Ray C. Ayers, who was killed while serving on the U.S.S. Houston during the Battle of Sunda Strait.

Those that participated in great history, such as Technical Sergeant Thomas M. Williams Jr., who participated in the first heavy bombing mission over Japan.

Our elite operators such as Sergeant First Class Billy D. Evans, who while serving as a Green Beret in Vietnam, received our nation's second highest decoration, the Distinguished Service Cross.

Men who died on frozen battlefields like Corporal Robert G. Miller, who succumbed to his injuries in the Korean War.

Last but not least, our modern-day warriors such as Staff Sergeant Michael T. Jeffrey, who received a Purple Heart for service in Iraq and is currently struggling to find comfort and peace with those injuries that still plague him.

We do more than rescue and return these medals we reunite and heal families. We return what is often the last tangible piece of a veteran to his or her family. This is often the solace that is needed for a military family to commemorate their loved one's service.

Return ceremonies, like one we held today, educate communities across the country about what it means to serve and provide them with the history behind the medal as well as a detailed accounting of their loved ones' service. In 1973, thousands of military records were destroyed in a devastating fire at the National Personnel Record Center. Through our foundation we have begun the process of piecing together the tattered narrative of American heroes. More importantly, we have honored them by sharing their stories with their own families and a grateful Nation.

Since 2012 we have returned over 500 medals, traveled over 100,000 miles, and affected the lives of over one million people through the foundation. More importantly, we have given precious moments like the one I experienced with my son back to mothers, fathers, brothers, sisters and grandchildren across our great nation. Today, we have the great privilege of sharing that moment to seven deserving families and one living hero.

National Purple Heart Day is a wonderful day to highlight these American heroes and their sacrifice. Our nation has heroes currently serving around the world on freedom's frontier, however, and as long as they continue to selflessly serve, Purple Hearts Reunited will continue to work to ensure that these warriors and the tokens and mementos of their service will forever be respected, remembered and returned home.

Watch the video: Purple Heart