Honoring Sacrifice: Purple Heart DayAugust 4, 2017
The military awards many medals and honors to the brave servicemen and servicewomen who keep our country safe from harm. One of the most famous and easily identifiable awards is the Purple Heart, which the military awards to anyone who was killed or wounded while serving in any of the service branches.
While its golden profile of George Washington against a purple backdrop is very familiar, even to civilians, the history behind this award is not as well known. Did you even know that August 7th is Purple Heart Day and set aside to commemorate the origins of this honor?
The origins of the Purple Heart award date back to the Revolutionary War when George Washington was General of the Continental Army, instead of President of the fledgling United States of America. On August 7, 1782, he commissioned a “Badge of Merit” to award to soldiers for “any singularly meritorious action.” The original award was a decoration made of a purple heart made of silk embroidered in silver thread with the word “Merit.” Additionally, recipients of the award would be recorded in the Book of Merit and given special privileges.
Only three known soldiers received the Badge of Merit during the Revolutionary War before the book was lost and the decoration was forgotten. Years turned to decades and decades into more than a century, until 1927. That was the year that U.S. Army chief of staff, General Charles P. Summerall, unsuccessfully petitioned Congress to revive the Badge of Military Merit. While the bill failed under his endorsement, his successor General Douglas MacArthur successfully championed the cause and got it reinstated on February 22, 1932, to commemorate the bicentennial anniversary of President Washington’s birthdate.
Unlike the original Badge of Merit, service members killed or wounded as a result of enemy action on or before April 5, 1917, would receive the Purple Heart decoration. This backdating allowed service members wounded or killed during World War I to receive the award.
Due to complications with the difficulty of keeping records during wartime or before digital databases, it is unknown how many people have received the Purple Heart. A current estimate, given by the National Purple Heart Hall of Honor, is that 1.8 million people from all branches of the service have received the decoration.
Now that you have a better understanding of the importance and the history behind the date August 7th make sure to mark Purple Heart Day on your Calendar. Use it as your reminder to take the time to honor those who have received the Purple Heart. Whether you fly the American flag or take the time to volunteer with a veterans’ group, be sure to honor the sacrifice given by the estimated 1.8 million service members who have received this decoration.