7 Interesting Facts for National Purple Heart Day
contributed by Liz Zaczek, senior staff writer
National Purple Heart Day, observed each August 7, is a time for Americans to pause, remember and honor those who were wounded by an instrument of war or made the ultimate sacrifice on the fields of battle. The Purple Heart is one of the military’s oldest awards and one of the first to be given to enlisted soldiers or non-commissioned officers.
Here are 7 interesting facts about the Purple Heart in honor of the day:
- On Aug. 7, 1782, George Washington created the award (originally called the Badge of Military Merit) to give to Soldiers for any commendable action. It was only awarded to a few Soldiers during that time and forgotten about until it was reinstated on Washington’s 200th birthday, Feb. 22, 1932.
- Army Gen. Douglas MacArthur revived the Purple Heart and it officially received its modern-day look and name in 1932. The medal was designated primarily as a combat decoration, recognizing commendable action as well as those wounded or killed in combat. MacArthur, who wanted to refresh and rename the award in time for the bicentennial of George Washington’s birthday, worked with the Washington Commission of Fine Arts and Elizabeth Will, a heraldry specialist in the Army’s Office of the Quartermaster General. A few years later in 1944, the qualifications for receiving a Purple Heart changed to what we know today: an award given only to those wounded or killed in enemy action.
- During the Revolutionary War, Continental Army soldiers William Brown and Elijah Churchill were the first soldiers to receive the Badge of Military Merit, the predecessor to the Purple Heart. Brown was most likely bestowed the honor for his service during the Siege of Yorktown, while Churchill was recognized for his gallantry at a battle near Fort St. George on Long Island. The first service member to receive the modern-day Purple Heart was Army Gen. Douglas MacArthur for his service in the Pacific theater (specifically in the Philippines) during World War II.
- The National Purple Heart Hall of Honor estimates that 1.8 million Purple Hearts have been issued since the award was re-established in 1932. Unfortunately an official list of recipients does not exist however the National Purple Heart Hall of Honor is working on remedying this. They are currently building a database with help from families of recipients from all branches of the service during all eras since the award was officially established in its current form in 1932. Their goal is to create a Roll of Honor to preserve and share the stories of these courageous defenders of freedom.
- Although each Purple Heart recipient deserves widespread recognition, a handful of honorees standout as household names, such as the legendary Lewis Burwell “Chesty” Puller. Other famous Purple Heart recipients include actors (such as James Arness, Charles Bronson, James Garner, Rod Serling), writers (Kurt Vonnegut, Oliver Stone), athletes (Warren Spahn, Pat Tillman, Rocky Bleier), politicians (John Kerry, Colin Powell, Tammy Duckworth, John McCain) and even animals (Sergeant Stubby the dog and Sergeant Reckless the horse).
- In 1942, Army Lt. Annie G. Fox became the first woman to receive a Purple Heart for her heroic actions during the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor in 1941. Fox, who was serving as the chief nurse at Hickam Field, Hawaii, remained calm throughout the attack on Pearl Harbor and her hospital, and successfully directed hospital staff to tend to the wounded as they came in from harbor.
- President John F. Kennedy is the only U.S. president with a Purple Heart. Kennedy, who served in the Navy during World War II, sustained injuries to his back when a Japanese destroyer collided with his patrol torpedo boat near the Solomon Islands. As his boat sank, Kennedy refused to let his injury stop him from towing a badly burned crew member to safety. Kennedy swam with the man’s life jacket strap clenched between his teeth for three miles before reaching an island and bringing the man safely to shore. Kennedy was also awarded the Navy and Marine Corps Medal for his actions.