The Purple Heart is a United States military decoration awarded in the name of the President to those wounded or killed while serving, on or after April 5, 1917, with the U. S. military. With its forerunner, the Badge of Military Merit, which took the form of a heart made of purple cloth, the Purple Heart is the oldest military award still given to U.S. military members.
The original Purple Heart, designated as the Badge of Military Merit, was established by George Washington– then the commander-in-chief of the Continental Army—by order this date in 1782. The Badge of Military Merit was only awarded to three Revolutionary War soldiers by General George Washington himself. He authorized his subordinate officers to issue Badges of Merit as appropriate. From then on, as its legend grew, so did its appearance. Although never abolished, the award of the badge was not proposed again officially until after World War I.
On October 10, 1927, a draft bill by the Army Chief of Staff Charles Summerall was sent to Congress “to revive the Badge of Military Merit.” Although withdrawn, a number of private interests sought to have the medal re-instituted in the Army. On January 7, 1931, Summerall’s successor, General Douglas MacArthur, confidentially reopened work on a new design, involving the Washington Commission of Fine Arts. Elizabeth Will, an Army heraldic specialist in the Office of the Quartermaster Geneal, was named to redesign the newly revived medal, which became known as the Purple Heart. Using general specifications provided to her, Will created the design sketch for the present medal of the Purple Heart. The new design, which exhibits a bust and profile of George Washington, was issued on the bicentennial of Washington’s birth.
The Commission of Fine Arts solicited plaster models from three leading sculptors for the medal. By Executive Order of the President of the United States, the Purple Heart was revived on the 200th Anniversary of George Washington’s birth, out of respect to his memory and military achievements.
The criteria were announced in a War Department circular dated February 22, 1932, and authorized an award to soldiers, upon their request, who had been awarded the Meritorious Service Citation Certificate, Army Wound Ribbon, or were authorized to wear Wound Chevrons subsequent to April 5, 1917, the day before the United States entered World War I. The first Purple Heart was awarded to MacArthur. During the early period of American involvement in World War II, the Purple Heart was awarded both for wounds received in action against the enemy and for meritorious performance of duty. With the establishment of the Legion of Merit, by an Act of Congress, the practice of awarding the Purple Heart for meritorious service was discontinued. By Executive Order, dated December 3, 1942, the decoration was applied to all services; the order required a reasonable uniform application of the regulations for each of the Services. This executive order also authorized the award only for wounds received. For both military and civilian personnel during the World War II era, to meet eligibility for the Purple Heart, identification of circumstances was required.
After the award was re-authorized in 1932, some U.S. Army wounded from conflicts prior to the first World War applied for, and were awarded, the Purple Heart: “…veterans of the Civil War and Indian Wars, as well as the Spanish-American War, China Relief Expedition (Boxer Rebellion), and Philippine Insurrection” also were awarded the Purple Heart. Subject to the approval of the Secretary of Defense, an Executive Order dated April 25, 1962, included provisions for posthumous award of the Purple Heart. Execute Order dated February 23, 1984 authorized award of the Purple Heart as a result of terrorist attacks, or while serving as part of a peacekeeping force. On June 13, 1985, the Senate approved an amendment to the 1985 Defense Authorization Bill authorized the award for wounds received as a result of friendly fire.
During World War II, nearly 500,000 Purple Heart medals were manufactured in anticipation of the estimated casualties resulting from the planned Allied invasion of Japan. To the present date, total combined American military casualties of the seventy years following the end of World War II–including the Korean and Vietnam wars—have not exceeded that number. In 2003, there remained 120,000 Purple Heart medals in stock. The existing surplus allowed combat units in Iraq and Afghanistan to keep Purple Hearts on-hand for immediate award to soldiers wounded in the field.
The Purple Heart differs from most other decorations in that an individual is not “recommended” for the decoration; rather he or she is entitled to it upon meeting specific criteria. A Purple Heart is awarded for the first wound suffered under conditions indicated above, but for each subsequent award an oak leaf cluster with a 5/16″ star is worn in lieu of another medal. (from Wikipdia)