Awarded The Purple Heart
Purple Heart Day, on August 7th, commemorates the creation of the oldest American military decoration for military merit. The Purple Heart honors the men and women who are of the Military Order of the Purple Heart. During the American Revolutionary War, the Badge for Military Merit decorated six known soldiers.
Purple Heart Day
General George Washington created the Badge of Merit in 1782. Washington intended the honor to be presented to soldiers for “any singularly meritorious action.” Its design included a purple, heart-shaped piece of silk bound with a thin edge of silver. Across the face, the word Merit was embroidered in silver. While the badge symbolized the courage and devotion of an American Patriot, no one knows who designed the award.
Until Washington’s 200th birthday, the Purple Heart persisted as a Revolutionary War footnote. Through the efforts of General Douglas MacArthur, the U.S. War Department created the Order of the Purple Heart. Today the medal bears a bust of George Washington and his coat of arms.
While an accurate and complete list of names no longer exists, National Geographic recently estimated that nearly 1.9 million service members have earned Purple Hearts since its creation. It is the oldest U.S. military honor still bestowed upon service members today. Until 1944, the Purple Heart recognized service members’ commendable actions as well. Then in 1944, the requirements limited the award to only those wounded or killed in combat.
Purple Heart Firsts
- William Brown and Elijah Churchill received the Badge of Military Merit during the Revolutionary War when the award first replaced the Fidelity Medallion.
- Army General Douglas MacArthur received the first modern-day Purple Heart.
Army Lt. Annie G. Fox received the Purple Heart during World War II for her actions during the attack on Pearl Harbor.
- Since 1932, Americans have celebrated Purple Heart Day on both Washington’s birthday and Valentine’s Day. Some states and cities observed the day in their own way at different times throughout the year. Each declaration encouraged citizens to support wounded veterans with the purchase of a purple viola.
No matter when the observance occurred, it recognized the men and women killed and wounded in combat and their heroic actions. As the day evolved, it more commonly was observed on the day of the Purple Heart’s creation, August 7, 1782.