The Real Meaning of the Purple Heart
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    Cool The Real Meaning of the Purple Heart

    The Real Meaning of the Purple Heart
    By Allan Wall | July 26, 2005

    We hadn't been in Iraq for long when our brigade had its first casualty.

    After being called up, our entire National Guard brigade had been in training together in the United States. Upon arrival over here, we were dispersed throughout Iraq to fulfill various missions. We hadn't been in country long when we heard the news. One of our guys had been shot.

    Soon after, I was on base one day and encountered the soldier who had been shot. I recognized the surname on his uniform and noticed that he had his arm in a sling. The soldier had been shot in the upper arm by an insurgent, who escaped immediately. The injury was a flesh wound that had not entered the bone. He seemed to be doing well, and on the road to recovery. But that he had shot by an insurgent was a sobering one . A reminder that Iraq is still a dangerous place. Several months later, that was the first in our brigade to receive a Purple Heart, and I attended the ceremony.

    The Purple Heart medal bears a likeness of George Washington. There's a reason for that. Like any good officer, General Washington understood the importance of rewarding deserving soldiers. So he would grant them commissions or promotions. In 1782, the Continental Congress ordered him to stop doing this because Congress had run out of money. Seeking new ways to honor meritorious soldiers, Washington established the Badge of Military Merit. This badge was shaped like a heart and was purple, presumably chosen as it was the traditional color of royalty. It was awarded for meritorious service, not necessarily for being wounded in combat. On August 7, 1782, at his headquarters at Newburgh, New York, General Washington wrote an official order authorizing the badge. Here is an excerpt from Washington's document:

    The General, ever desirous to cherish virtuous ambition in his soldiers as well as foster and encourage every species of military merit, directs that whenever any singularly meritorious action is performed, the author of it shall be permitted to wear on his facings, over his left breast, the figure of a heart in purple cloth or silk edged with narrow lace or binding. Not only instances of unusual gallantry but also of extraordinary fidelity and essential service in any way shall meet with due reward. The name and regiment of the persons so certified are to be enrolled in a Book of Merit which shall be kept in the orderly room.

    The order also allows recipients of the Purple Heart "to pass all guards and sentinels which officers are permitted to do." Washington's authorization document ends with this sentence, "The road to glory in a patriot army and a free country is thus open to all."

    The only known recipients of the original Purple Heart were three sergeants who received it in 1783: Elijah Churchill, William Brown and Daniel Bissell, Jr. Presumably there were others, but their names are now lost to history.

    The Badge of Military Merit was soon forgotten, and the "Book of Merit" was lost. Even Washington's order authorizing the badge was lost in the War Department archives. (So there's nothing new about paperwork getting lost in the U.S. military.)

    It wasn't until the 1920s that Washington's order was rediscovered, and interest was shown in reviving it.

    On the bicentennial of Washington's birth -- February 22, 1932 -- the award was revived, now made of medal and known as the Purple Heart. (General Douglas McArthur was Army Chief of Staff at the time). The Purple Heart was offered retroactively to World War I soldiers, and until 1942 was awarded for meritorious service, including but not limited to those wounded in combat.

    In 1942, it was designated to be awarded only to to those injured in combat.

    For more information on the Purple Heart, check out this article from the VFW magazine and the website of the Military Order of the Purple Heart (an organization open to all recipients of this award).

    Which brings me back to Iraq in 2005, where I stood in formation in a ceremony in which the soldier mentioned above received a Purple Heart.

    The ceremony was short but dignified. The officials announced that seven members of our larger unit were also eligible, having been wounded. After we were dismissed, I went to congratulate the soldier. There on his chest was the Purple Heart badge, bearing a small profile of General George Washington, who established the award to recognize meritorious service when he could no longer give a cash reward.

    The Purple Heart is a reminder of a recognition of the sacrifices faced by our soldiers, of their nobility and courage -- and once again, a reminder that Iraq is still a dangerous place.


  2. #2
    Marine Free Member Riven37's Avatar
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    Dec 2002
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    I knew that history...

  3. #3
    The more we know of the decoration the better we are to single out those that wear it legitimately. For instance: Are there any civilians that can wear the Purple Heart? And, Can the award be given for an injury occurred in a war zone through one's own personal mistakes, like Kerry blowing up a rice basket and getting as piece of shrapnel (Actually a hot kernel of rice) in his butt? Read on and findout.

    Purple Heart History


    A Purple heart within a Gold border, 1 3/8 inches wide, containing a profile of General George Washington. Above the heart appears a shield of the Washington Coat of Arms (a White shield with two Red bars and three Red stars in chief) between sprays of Green leaves. The reverse consists of a raised Bronze heart with the words "FOR MILITARY MERIT" below the coat of arms and leaves.


    The ribbon is 1 3/8 inches wide and consists of the following stripes: 1/8 inch White 67101; 1 1/8 inches Purple 67115; and 1/8 inch White 67101.


    a. The Purple Heart is awarded in the name of the President of the United States to any member of an Armed Force who, while serving with the U.S. Armed Services after 5 April 1917, has been wounded or killed, or who has died or may hereafter die after being wounded;

    (1) In any action against an enemy of the United States;

    (2) In any action with an opposing armed force of a foreign country in which the Armed Forces of the United States are or have been engaged;

    (3) While serving with friendly foreign forces engaged in an armed conflict against an opposing armed force in which the United States is not a belligerent party;

    (4) As a result of an act of any such enemy of opposing armed forces;

    (5) As the result of an act of any hostile foreign force;

    (6) After 28 March 1973, as a result of an international terrorist attack against the United States or a foreign nation friendly to the United States, recognized as such an attack by the Secretary of the department concerned, or jointly by the Secretaries of the departments concerned if persons from more than one department are wounded in the attack; or,

    (7) After 28 March 1973, as a result of military operations, while serving outside the territory of the United States as part of a peacekeeping force.

    (8) After 7 December 1941, by weapon fire while directly engaged in armed conflict, regardless of the fire causing the wound.

    (9) While held as a prisoner of war or while being taken captive.

    b. A wound for which the award is made must have required treatment by a medical officer.


    a. Decoration (regular size): MIL-D-3943/24; NSN for set 8455-00-269-5757; individual medal 8455-00-246-3833.

    b. Decoration (miniature size): MIL-D-3943//24.

    c. Ribbon: MIL-R-11589/126. NSN 8455-00-9948.

    d. Lapel Button (metal replica of ribbon bar): MIL-L-11484/18. NSN 8455-00-253-0818.


    a. The original Purple Heart, designated as the Badge of Military Merit, was established by General George Washington by order from his headquarters at Newburgh, New York, August 7, 1782. The writings of General Washington quoted in part:

    "The General ever desirous to cherish a virtuous ambition in his soldiers, as well as to foster and encourage every species of Military Merit, directs that whenever any singularly meritorious action is performed, the author of it shall be permitted to wear on his facings over the left breast, the figure of a heart in purple cloth or silk, edged with narrow lace or binding. Not only instances of unusual gallantry, but also of extraordinary fidelity and essential service in any way shall meet with a due reward".

    b. So far as the known surviving records show, this honor badge was granted to only three men, all of them noncommissioned officers: Sergeant Daniel Bissell of the 2d Connecticut Regiment of the Continental Line; Sergeant William Brown of the 5th Connecticut Regiment of the Continental Line, and Sergeant Elijah Churchill of the 2d Continental Dragoons, which was also a Connecticut Regiment. The original Purple Heart depicted on the first page is a copy of the badge awarded to Sergeant Elijah Churchill and is now owned by the New Windsor Cantonment, National Temple Hill Association, PO Box 525, Vails Gate, NY 12584. The only other known original badge is the badge awarded to Sergeant William Brown and is in the possession of The Society of the Cincinnati, New Hampshire Branch but differs in design by not having any lettering embroidered on the heart and the leaves are at the top only with a larger spray of leaves at the base.

    c. Subsequent to the Revolution, the Order of the Purple Heart had fallen into disuse and no further awards were made. By 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, by War Department General Orders No. 3, dated 22 February 1932. The criteria was announced in War Department Circular dated 22 February 1932 and authorized award to soldiers, upon their request, who had been awarded the Meritorious Service Citation Certificate or were authorized to wear wound chevrons subsequent to 5 April 1917.

    d. During the early period of World War II (7 Dec 41 to 22 Sep 43), 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 9277, dated 3 December 1942, the decoration was extended to be applicable to all services and the order required that regulations of the Services be uniform in application as far as practicable. This executive order also authorized award only for wounds received.

    e. Executive Order 10409, dated 12 February 1952, revised authorizations to include the Service Secretaries subject to approval of the Secretary of Defense. Executive Order 11016, dated 25 April 1962, included provisions for posthumous award of the Purple Heart. Executive Order 12464, dated 23 February 1984, authorized award of the Purple Heart as a result of terrorist attacks or while serving as part of a peacekeeping force subsequent to 28 March 1973.

    f. The Senate approved an amendment to the 1985 Defense Authorization Bill on 13 June 1985, which changed the precedent from immediately above the Good Conduct Medal to immediately above the Meritorious Service Medals. Public Law 99-145 authorized the award for wounds received as a result of "friendly fire". Public Law 104-106 expanded the eligibility date, authorizing award of the Purple Heart to a former prisoner of war who was wounded before 25 April 1962.

    g. The National Defense Authorization Act for Fiscal Year1998 (Public Law 105-85) changed the criteria to delete authorization for award of the Purple Heart Medal to any civilian national of the United States while serving under competent authority in any capacity with the Armed Forces. This change was effective 18 May 1998.

    h. Order of precedence and wear of decorations is contained in Army Regulation 670-1. Policy for awards, approving authority, supply, and issue of decorations is contained in AR 600-8-22.

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