Most American adults have heard of the Purple Heart Award, or even know a veteran who has received it, but what is the origin of this distinguished honor?
On August 7, 1782, President George Washington decided on a symbolic honor for three soldiers he originally called the “Badge of Merit.” After this inaugural honor was bestowed, it was not awarded again until the 20th century.
Inspired by Washington’s Badge of Merit, on February 22, 1932 General Douglas MacArthur created the modern Purple Heart. But it wasn’t until that May, the bicentennial of Washington’s birth, that it was awarded. 137 WWI veterans were honored with the award at Temple Hill, New Windsor, New York, the site of the final encampment of the Continental Army in the winter of 1782-83.
Originally only given to Army enlisted men and Army Airmen, in 1942, President Franklin Roosevelt extended the award to include Navy, Marines and Coast Guard members, and posthumously awarded it to any service members killed on or after December 6, 1941.
Currently, the Purple Heart is awarded in the name of the US President presiding at the time of the award for soldiers who were wounded, killed or died of wounds who served after April 15, 1917. Other instances of the award being given include Purple Hearts for death by acts of terror outside the US, domestic terror, friendly fire, and POWs after December 7, 1941.
The Purple Heart has a long and honored history, and is considered an exceptional and most deserved honor for the men and women who serve and protect our country.