The Purple Heart is the oldest military award still given to U.S. servicemen and women. The original design and concept of the Purple Heart can be traced back to the first U.S. President, General George Washington. In 1782, he commissioned the Badge of Military Merit, which took the shape of a heart and was colored purple. It was awarded for gallantry in action and is one of the first known examples of an award given to soldiers in the rank and file, being reserved specifically for NCOs and privates.
Previously, on the battlefields of Europe, it was customary to reward only the officers for their victories and the quality of their soldiers. By contrast, the American revolutionary ideals of equality and freedom applied to the common soldier.
As Washington said in reference to the Badge of Military Merit, “The road to glory in a patriot army and a free country… is open to all.” The Badge of Military Merit set the precedent for the modern system of military awards the United States military uses today.
Although the badge was never retired, it was not considered or awarded again until the 1930s when Gen. Douglas McArthur helped create the modern design of the medal in collaboration with the Washington Commission of Fine Arts. The medal was reinstituted by General Order No. 3 on February 22, 1932, and became known as the Purple Heart. That same date marks what would have been George Washington’s 200th birthday, whose bust is displayed on the face of the medal.
After 1942, Roosevelt and the U.S. Department of War officially defined the terms of receiving the Purple Heart to include combatants from all services who received wounds or were killed as a direct result of enemy action. Living veterans after 1917 were allowed to apply for the award with proof of injury by the enemy during combat. Over 300,000 WWI veterans received the Purple Heart.
WWII and Beyond
During WWII, over 1.5 million Purple Hearts were made, many in anticipation of the casualties that might have occurred during the invasion of Japan’s home islands. Fortunately, that day never came. Unlike most military awards, those eligible for the Purple Heart were entitled to receive it rather than having to go through a review process. It was commonplace in WWII, Korea, and Vietnam for officers to deliver the Purple Heart to wounded soldiers on the spot, pinning them to the pillows of their hospital beds.
More than two million Purple Hearts have been awarded, not including those who died in WWI and were thus ineligible to receive the medal posthumously. Some well-known recipients include Sgt. John Basilone was killed at Iwo Jima and was also awarded a Medal of Honor. President John F. Kennedy received the Purple Heart for his actions aboard PT-109 in the Pacific theater of World War II. Senator John McCain received his Purple Heart after being shot down and surviving P.O.W. camps in North Vietnam.
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Civilians Awarded with Purple Hearts
The requirements for receiving the Purple Heart are always evolving. Civilians, as well as two military service animals, have also received the award.
Recently it was awarded to Riley Howell, a student at the University of North Carolina Charlotte who, during the 2019 classroom shooting, jumped on the attacker and allowed time for other students to escape. He was shot three times and was killed as a result of his heroic actions.
Sergeant Reckless was a horse purchased as a pack animal by the
5th Marine Regiment of the 1st Marine Division to carry ammunition up mountainous trails in Korea. During the Battle of Outpost Vegas, she made 51 trips carrying ammunition and was wounded twice by shrapnel.
Purple Heart Foundation and Wounded Warrior Project
The Purple Heart Foundation is a non-profit organization located in Virginia. Founded in 1957, they seek to improve the quality of life for Purple Heart recipients and other honorably discharged veterans. They operate a clothing donation wing that sells lightly used clothing in thrift shops and donates the proceeds to veteran’s organizations. They also participate in vehicle donations serving the same purpose. The foundation organizes food drives with the help of volunteers to bring hot meals to homeless and underserved veterans. If you are interested in donating or volunteering you can find all of their information at www.purpleheartfoundation.org.
The Wounded Warrior Project was founded in 2003 and endeavors to provide stability and opportunity to veterans who have been injured in the line of duty, as well as their families. Through mental-health programs, career consultation, and advocacy measures, the Wounded Warrior Project ensures that our injured veterans are neither physically nor mentally left behind. Their vision is to “foster the most successful, well-adjusted generation of wounded service members in our nation’s history.” Find out how you can volunteer or donate at woundedwarriorproject.org.
Popular Patch carries a number of products that celebrate the valor of those who have sacrificed their safety or given their very lives in the pursuit of freedom at home and abroad.
The Purple Heart Ribbon MOS patch can be used in combination with other patches to indicate where or when a veteran served and received the Purple Heart.
We also carry the Navy Combat Wounded Rating Badge of Military Merit Purple Heart for veterans of Vietnam, Afghanistan, and Iraq. You can find these and thousands more patches to honor you or your loved one’s service by exploring our inventory.
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