The Purple Heart was established by George Washington while he was commander-in-chief of the Continental Army. Originally called the Badge of Military Merit, it was awarded to those in our military service who were wounded or killed in battle. There have been more than 1.9 million purple heart recipients since the Revolutionary War.
The Purple Heart
While George Washington officially established the designation on August 7, 1782, no service member was awarded the Purple Heart until after World War 1. Prior to World War 1, there were only three purple heart recipients—all from the Revolutionary War. Daniel Bissell received his award for successfully spying on the British, William Brown was awarded his for a successful attack on British defenses with only bayonets, and Elijah Churchill was awarded the designation for leading raids against British forts.
After the war, for unknown reasons, the designation was no longer awarded. While there was an interest in reviving the award, there was only one attempt to reinstate the award in 1927 but the bill was withdrawn.
Unbeknownst to many, General Douglas MacArthur had been working for some time to reinstate the award. In partnership with the Washington Commission of Fine Arts, a new design was created as well as a new name—The Purple Heart. On February 22, 1932 – the anniversary of Washington’s birth – the War Department that the Purple Heart was established, declaring:
“By order of the President of the United States, the Purple Heart established by General George Washington at Newburgh, August 7, 1782, during the War of the Revolution, is hereby revived out of respect to his memory and military achievements.”
It is estimated that more than 320,000 Purple Hearts were retroactively awarded to World War 1 veterans.
Purple Heart Recipients
Until 1942, the designation was to be awarded to only U.S. Army members. However, upon executive order by President Franklin D. Roosevelt, the award was authorized to be given to any service person, regardless of military service branch. The eligibility criteria continued to evolve over the course of the latter-half of the 20th Century. President Kennedy extended eligibility to any member of the armed services. In 1984, President Reagan authorized the award to be eligible to any members of a peacekeeping force or part of a terrorist attack.
National Purple Heart Day
National Purple Heart Day is observed on August 7 of each year. It’s a day for all Americans to remember the many men and women who were wounded or killed in service. Major League Baseball teams have ceremonies to honor recipients, many military organizations gather for remembrance, and the Purple Heart Foundation raises awareness for Purple Heart donations—an important fundraising effort by the Military Order of the Purple Heart.
Let’s all remember to take a moment today for those brave men and women who have paid the ultimate price for our country.