The Purple Heart. A military decoration awarded for “being wounded or killed in any action against an enemy of the United States or as a result of an act of any such enemy or opposing armed forces.” Then continental Army commander-in-chief George Washington originally designated a Badge of Military Merit on August 7th, 1782. A bit of controversy surrounded this important award in 1927, and Congress halted any additional progress on awarding the medal to soldiers. In 1931, General Douglas McArthur re-energized the effort, but this time on a completely new redesign. Elizabeth Will, a heraldic specialist, created a new design for what would be titled the Purple Heart. Amazingly, the original design sketch back in 1931 has been modified only in the slightest fashion. The original art work of the past remains as the medal presents itself today. Heraldic specialists, and historians continue to prove their importance and relevance in creating and sustaining many military traditions, and their valuable efforts often go well under the radar.
Through the late 1930’s and into the 1940’s, several laws and executive orders continued the movement forward. Continuing through the 1950’s and into the 1960’s, criteria modifications were amended to the awarding of the Purple Heart including provisions for posthumous awarding, and awarding to efforts as a result of terrorist attacks and humanitarian efforts. The pure numbers of Purple Hearts awarded is stunning. Rough estimates vary, but many indicate nearly 1.5 million Purple Hearts have been awarded since World War I.
A deeper look into this medal is astonishing. A stunning heart shaped medal with a thin gold border is the centerpiece of this medal. At the center is a profile of George Washington. Directly above the heart is a shield of the Coat of Arms between thin green leaves. On the back, a simple raised bronze heart with the inscribed words: FOR MILITARY MERIT.
Beyond the beauty of the medal is the uniqueness of its award. Unlike most other military medals and decorations, an individual is simply not recommended for the award, they must meet very specific criteria. It is awarded for the first wound suffered in combat. More than one Purple Heart can be awarded, if the specific criteria is met.
On August 7th, a little known but very special day will arrive—Purple Heart Day. Unlike Memorial Day, Fourth of July, and Labor Day, this day will pass like many others. However, for the 1 plus million Purple Heart recipients, and to the surviving family members and friends, this is another wonderful time to pause and reflect. A proud time to remember those who have gone before us. A time to remember those who continue to serve our great nation. The history surrounding the Purple Heart was difficult, and a significant challenge to raise and keep it important. Take a moment in early August to remember the challenges of the past, the many who paid the ultimate sacrifice, and those who continue to raise their hands to support and defend our great nation.
Photo by LCpl. Kayla Rainbolt
By: Geoffrey Phillips
Mr. Phillips is an IT specialist and professional policy writer / content editor; a non-starving writer always in search of opportunities; a USAF veteran; and a devote Church Elder and family man. His passion is in the pen and the people; he absolutely loves to assist transitioning veterans, and finds himself at peace when he is doing some sort of writing.