The Purple Heart is a United States military decoration awarded in the name of the President to those who have been wounded or killed while serving on or after 5 April 1917 with the U.S. military. The National Purple Heart Hall of Honor is located in New Windsor, New York. The original idea for the Purple Heart (the Badge of Military Merit) is the oldest symbol and award that is still given to members of the U.S. military, surpassed in history only by the long obsolete Fidelity Medallion.
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 from his Newburgh, New York headquarters on 7 August 1782. The actual order includes the phrase, "Let it be known that he who wears the military order of the purple heart has given of his blood in the defense of his homeland and shall forever be revered by his fellow countrymen."
The Badge of Military Merit was only awarded to three Revolutionary War soldiers and fell into disuse following the War of Independence. Although never abolished, the award of the badge was not proposed again officially until after World War I.
On 10 October 1927, Army Chief of Staff General Charles Pelot Summerall directed that a draft bill be sent to Congress "to revive the Badge of Military Merit". The bill was withdrawn and action on the case ceased on 3 January 1928, but the office of the Adjutant General was instructed to file all materials collected for possible future use.
On 7 January 1931, Summerall’s successor, General Douglas MacArthur, confidentially reopened work on a new design, involving the Washington Commission of Fine Arts. This new design was issued on the bicentennial of George Washington's birth.
Elizabeth Will, an Army heraldic specialist in the Office of the Quartermaster General, 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. Her obituary, in the 8 February 1975 edition of the Washington Post newspaper, reflects her many contributions to military heraldry.
The Commission of Fine Arts solicited plaster models from three leading sculptors for the medal, selecting that of John R. Sinnock of the Philadelphia Mint in May 1931. 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, by War Department General Orders No. 3, dated 22 February 1932.
The criteria were 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, Army Wound Ribbon, or were authorized to wear Wound Chevrons subsequent to 5 April 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 (7 December 1941-22 September 1943), 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.
The Senate approved an amendment to the 1985 Defense Authorization Bill on 13 June 1985 which changed the precedence 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.
The National Defense Authorization Act for Fiscal Year 1998 (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.
Per United States Army regulations, the Purple Heart is 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 5 April 1917, has been wounded or killed, or who has died after being wounded. Specific examples of services which warrant the Purple Heart include:
The Purple Heart differs from all 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 authorized for the first wound suffered under conditions indicated above, but for each subsequent award an oak leaf cluster is awarded. Not more than one award will be made for more than one wound or injury received at the same instant.
A "wound" is defined as an injury to any part of the body from an outside force or agent sustained under one or more of the conditions listed above. A physical lesion is not required, however, the wound for which the award is made must have required treatment by a medical officer and records of medical treatment for wounds or injuries received in action must have been made a matter of official record. When contemplating an award of this decoration, the key issue that commanders must take into consideration is the degree to which the enemy caused the injury. The fact that the proposed recipient was participating in direct or indirect combat operations is a necessary prerequisite, but is not sole justification for award.
Examples of enemy-related injuries which justify award of the Purple Heart are as follows:
It is not intended that such a strict interpretation of the requirement for the wound or injury to be caused by direct result of hostile action be taken that it would preclude the award being made to deserving personnel. Commanders must also take into consideration the circumstances surrounding an injury, even if it appears to meet the criteria. Examples of such "special cases" include:
A Purple Heart may be issued to a fallen veteran's next of kin in the event that they are deceased. Issue will be made automatically by the Commanding General, PERSCOM, upon receiving a report of death indicating entitlement.
For those who became Prisoners of War after 25 April 1962, the Purple Heart will be awarded to individuals wounded while prisoners of foreign forces, upon submission by the individual to the Department of the U.S. Army of an affidavit that is supported by a statement from a witness, if this is possible. Documentation and inquiries should be directed to Commander, PERSCOM, ATTN: TAPC-PDA, Alexandria, VA 22332-0471.
Any member of the U.S. Army who believes that he or she is eligible for the Purple Heart, but through unusual circumstances no award was made, may submit an application through military channels, to Commander, PERSCOM, ATTN: TAPC PDA, Alexandria, VA 22332-0471. Application will include complete documentation, to include evidence of medical treatment, pertaining to the wound.
The Purple Heart may also be awarded to civilian nationals of the United States. These individuals must be serving under competent authority with the Army when wounded. Serving under competent authority with the Army includes persons who are employees of the U.S. Government in a duty (pay or official travel) status when wounds are sustained. Examples of eligible individuals are as follows:
Modern day Purple Heart presentations are recorded in both hardcopy and electronic service records. The annotation of the Purple Heart is denoted both with the service member's parent command and at the headquarters of the military service department. An original citation and award certificate are presented to the service member and filed in the field service record.
An added complication is that a number of field commanders would engage in bedside presentations of the Purple Heart which would typically entail a General entering a hospital with a box of Purple Hearts, pinning them on the pillows of wounded service members, and then departing with no official records kept of the visit or the award of the Purple Heart. Service members, themselves, could complicate the issue by leaving hospitals unofficially, returning to their units in haste to rejoin a battle or to not appear as a malingerer. In such cases, even if a service member had received actual wounds in combat, both the award of the Purple Heart, as well as the entire visit to the hospital which treated the enemy wound, would never be recorded in official records.
Simple clerical errors, where a Purple Heart is denoted in military records but was simply omitted from a DD Form 214 (Report of Separation), are corrected on site at the National Personnel Records Center through issuance of a document known as a DD-215.
Prior to 2006, service departments would review older service records, service histories, and all available records to determine if a veteran authorized a retroactive Purple Heart. As of 2008, such records are listed as "Archival" by the National Archives and Records Administration meaning they have been transferred from the custody of the military and can no longer be loaned and transferred for retroactive medals determination. In such cases, requestors asking for a Purple Heart (especially from records of the First World War) are provided with a complete copy of all available records (or reconstructed records in the case of the 1973 fire) and advised that the Purple Heart may be privately purchased if the requestor feels it is warranted.
A clause to the archival procedures was revised in mid 2008, where if a veteran themselves or (if deceased) an immediate member of the family requested the Purple Heart on an Army or Air Force record, the medal would still be granted by the National Archives. In such cases where a determination was required to be made by the military service department, photocopies of the archival record (but not the record itself) would be forwarded to the headquarters of the military branch in question. This stipulation was granted only for the Air Force and Army; Marine Corps, Navy, and Coast Guard archival medals requests are still typically offered a copy of the file and told to purchase the medal privately. For requests received directly from veterans, these requests are routed through a Navy Liaison Office on site at 9700 Page Avenue (the location of the Military Personnel Records Center).
The loaning of fire related records to the military has declined since 2006, since a large number of such records now fall into the "archival records" category of military service records meaning that the records have been transferred from the military to the National Archives. In such cases, the Purple Heart may be privately purchased by the requestor (see above section of retroactive requests for further details) but is no longer provided by the military service department.
Charles Bronson, actor.
The most Purple Hearts received by one person is eight. Six U.S. Army soldiers share that distinction:
In May 2006, a soldier made national headlines after giving his Purple Heart to a girl who had written many letters to troops.
In May 2007, Vietnam veteran Jerrell Hudman announced that he planned to give one of his three Purple Hearts to George, a Jack Russell terrier. George died from injuries sustained when he saved a group of five children from being mauled by two pit bull terriers in New Zealand.
John Kerry, Democratic Party nominee for President in 2004, was awarded three Purple Hearts during his service in the Vietnam War. During the 2004 U.S. presidential campaign these awards (along with Kerry's entire Vietnam war record) caused some controversy as the 527 group Swift Vets and POWs for Truth questioned the validity of those awards. During events supporting the re-election of George W. Bush, participants were occasionally seen to be wearing "purple heart Band-Aids", a gesture intended to cast doubt on the seriousness of the wounds Kerry suffered in combat. 2008 presidential canidate John McCain has also received a purple heart.