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Purple Heart

awarded to members of the U.S. Armed Forces who have been killed or wounded in action against an enemy

The oldest American decoration for military merit, the Purple Heart was originally established as the Badge for Military Merit by General George Washington on August 7, 1782. The badge consisted of a purple heart-shaped piece of silk, edged with a narrow binding of silver, and with the word "merit" stitched across the face in silver. Open only to enlisted men, the award granted them the distinction of being permitted to pass all guards and sentinels as could commissioned officers. The names of the recipients were to have been kept in a "Book of Merit" (which has never been recovered). At the present time there are three known recipients of the Badge of Military Merit: Sergeant Elijah Churchill, 2nd Continental Dragoons; Sergeant William Brown, 5th and Sergeant Daniel Bissel, 2nd Connecticut Continental Line Infantry.

Awarding of the Badge for Military Merit ended with the Revolutionary War. General John J. Pershing suggested a need for a new award for merit in 1918, but his suggestion was not acted upon until 1932, when Secretary of War Douglas MacArthur issued General Order No. 3:

"...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."

On May 28, 1932, 138 World War I veterans were conferred their Purple Hearts at Temple Hill, in New Windsor, New York, the site of the final encampment of the Continental Army in the winter of 1782-1783.

At first, the Purple Heart was exclusively awarded to Army and Army Air Corps personnel and could not be awarded posthumously to the next of kin. In 1942, President Franklin Roosevelt signed an executive order allowing the Navy to award the Purple Heart to sailors, marines, and Coast Guard personnel. Also in that year, the Purple Heart was made available for posthumous award to any member of the military killed on or after December 7, 1941.

Originally the Purple Heart was awarded for meritorious service, with being wounded one portion of consideration. With the creation of the Legion of Merit in 1942, the award of the Purple Heart for meritorious service became unnecessary and was therefore discontinued. The Purple Heart is now awarded in the name of the President of the United States to any member of the Armed Forces of the United States who, while serving under competent authority in any capacity with one of the U.S. Armed Services after April 5, 1917 has been wounded, killed, or has died after being wounded.

The Military Order of the Purple Heart

See Also

George Washington
John J. Pershing
Douglas MacArthur

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This page was last updated on 09/28/2018.