The Purple Heart

In 1782, George Washington commander of the Continental Army created the Badge of Military Merit. The original badge was a medal heart on a purple background. The award was discontinued in use until after World War I. In 1927, the Army Chief of Staff asked Congress to reactivate the badge. The Congress refused to act.

In 1931 General Douglas MacArthur reopened consideration of the badge secretly. Elizabeth Will, a specialist in commemorative medals, was asked to redesign the medal. The medal also got a new name: The Purple Heart.

The new medal featured a profile of George Washington against a purple background suspended from a purple ribbon. With Congress’ failure to honor veterans, President Herbert Hoover created the Purple Heart by Executive Order. It became the oldest military medal still being used. Up until the creation of the Purple Heart, commemorative medals were generally reserved for those in leadership positions of high office. It seems as if Congress did not want to recognize those in lower positions.

Initially, the Purple Heart was awarded for wounds received in action and for meritorious service. It’s perhaps no surprise that General Douglas MacArthur received the first Purple Heart. Meritorious service was later removed as a reason for awarding the Purple Heart.

Over time, the criteria for awarding the Purple Heart have been firmly established.

  • All branches of the military are eligible
  • Those wounded in conflict before the creation of the Purple Heart became eligible
  • The award is given to those wounded in battle and those killed. Initially, you had to be alive to receive the Purple Heart
  • The award has very specific criteria for the degree of harm suffered (e.g., maladies caused by a chemical or biological agent do not qualify)

For those wounded more than once, an oakleaf cluster is added to the ribbon. The most oak leaf clusters awarded is nine. The Purple Heart differs from other forms of recognition in that it is an entitlement, not requiring a recommendation. Those in command are only asked to verify the conditions for the award are met.

In anticipation of a land invasion of Japan during World War II, over 1.5 million Purple Hearts were produced. President Truman authorized the dropping of atomic bombs to end the war. Many of the Purple Hearts were unnecessary. These Purple Hearts have subsequently been used in other conflicts. The original supply has yet to be exhausted allowing the awarding of the Purple Heart to be awarded immediately.

* * *

“Let it be known that he who wears the military order of the purple heart has given of his blood in the defense of his homeland and shall forever be revered by his fellow countrymen.” – George Washington

How To Use

Useful guides for incorporating messages into discussion.