The Purple Heart is a United States military decoration to honor those who have been wounded or killed in action. It is among the highest honors available for those who serve in wartime or in combat against U.S. enemies. It was originally established in 1782 as the “Badge of Military Merit” by General George Washington, making it the nation’s oldest and most well-known military award. Washington wrote at the time of its creation,
“The road to glory in a patriot army and a free country is thus open to all. This order [the Purple Heart] is also to have retrospect to the earliest stages of war, and to be considered as a permanent one.”
Only three soldiers received the original honor badge: Sergeant Daniel Bissell of the 2d Connecticut Regiment of the Continental Line, Sergeant William Brown of the 5th Connecticut Regiment of the Continental Line, and Sergeant Elijah Churchill of the 2d Continental Dragoons. The medal was not awarded again until it was re-established as the Purple Heart award on February 22, 1932 — the 200th anniversary of George Washington’s birth.
The medal is a purple heart bordered in bronze that displays the profile of Washington in his Continental Army uniform. It also includes Washington’s family coat of arms and a heart on the back with the inscription “FOR MILITARY MERIT.” It comes attached to a piece of purple silk with a silver border.
Army regulations stated that the Purple Heart was only to be awarded after a “singularly meritorious act of extraordinary fidelity service” in which the service member was wounded in combat by a person(s) hostile to the United States. In December 1942, President Franklin D. Roosevelt extended the Purple Heart beyond the Army and to the other branches of military service. Today, the Purple Heart is also given to military personnel who display valor as prisoners of war or while fighting certain types of domestic terrorists. It is estimated that around 1.8 million Purple Hearts have been awarded.
August 7th is National Purple Heart Day, recognized as an unofficial observance that is dedicated to warriors who have received this symbol of bravery. States, counties, and cities pause in recognition of their sacrifice, while sports and entertainment entities pay homage with ceremonies and words of respect. The Purple Heart Foundation, the fundraising arm of the Military Order of the Purple Heart, recommends donating time and money to the foundation or to other organizations working with Purple Heart recipients. If nothing else — take a moment to recognize the incredible courage and sense of duty that these heroes have exhibited in defending our nation. Their actions are forever immortalized, in our memories and in the purples badges on their chests.
Levi Leidy, In-house Writer