Purple Heart Medal
Service: All Services (Originally Army Only)
Instituted: 1932; The Purple Heart Medal is retroactive to 5 April 1917; however, awards for qualifying prior to that date have been made
Criteria: Awarded to any member of the Armed Forces of the United
States or to any civilian national of the United States who, while
serving under competent authority in any capacity with one of the U.S.
Armed Forces, since 5 April 1917 has been wounded, killed, or who has
died or may die of wounds received from an opposing enemy force while
in armed combat or as a result of an act of international terrorism or
being a Prisoner of War.
Devices: Army/Air Force: Bronze, Silver Oak Leaf Cluster; Navy/ Marine Corps/Coast Guard: Gold, Silver Star
Notes: A Wound Ribbon appeared briefly in 1917, but was ultimately rescinded. (The Army used wound chevrons during World War I)
Purple Heart - Overview
The Purple Heart Medal
is America’s oldest military decoration. It was originally established
on August 7, 1782 by General George Washington who designed the
original award called the “Badge of Military Merit.” The Badge of
Military Merit was awarded for singularly meritorious action to a
deserving hero of the Revolutionary War. There were only three
recipients of the award, all of whom were non-commissioned officers of
the Continental Army. The Badge of Military Merit was intended by
Washington to be a permanent decoration, but was never used again after
the three initial presentations until it was reestablished as the Purple Heart Medal on February 22, 1932 (the 200th anniversary of Washington’s birth) by the Army War Department.
During the First World War, War Department General Order No.134 of
October 12, 1917 authorized a red ribbon with a narrow white center
stripe to be worn on the right breast for wounds received in action.
However, the order was rescinded 32 days later and the ribbon never
became a reality. Instead, the Army authorized wound chevrons which were
worn on the lower right sleeve of the tunic.
On July 21, 1932, General Douglas MacArthur, who was a key figure in
its revival, received the first Purple Heart Medal after it was
reestablished. President Franklin D. Roosevelt signed an executive
order on December 3, 1942 that expanded the award to members of the
Navy, Marine Corps and Coast Guard as well. Although the Purple Heart
Medal was awarded for meritorious service between 1932 and 1943, the
primary purpose of the award has always been to recognize those who
received wounds while in the service of the United States military.
Later, Presidential Executive Orders extended eligibility for the
Purple Heart Medal to military and civilian personnel who received
wounds from a terrorist attack or while performing peace keeping
duties. Currently, it is awarded for wounds received while serving in
any capacity with one of the U.S. Armed Forces after April 5, 1917; it
may be awarded to civilians as well as military personnel. The wounds
may have been received while in combat against an enemy, while a member
of a peacekeeping force, while a Prisoner of War, as a result of a
terrorist attack or as a result of a friendly fire incident in hostile
territory. The 1996 Defense Authorization Act extended eligibility for
the Purple Heart to prisoners of war before April 25, 1962; previous
legislation had only authorized the medal to POWs after April 25, 1962.
Wounds that qualify must have required treatment by a medical officer
and must be a matter of official record.
Purple Heart - Precedence
The Purple Heart Medal was originally last in precedence of all other
personal decorations, but was elevated in 1985 by an act of Congress
to a position just behind the Bronze Star.
The military medal
is a heart-shaped, gold-rimmed medallion with a profile of George
Washington on a purple enameled base. Above Washington’s profile is the
shield from his family’s coat of arms. “FOR MILITARY MERIT” is
inscribed on the reverse. The ribbon is a dark purple with narrow white
edges. The original Badge of Military Merit was a satin purple heart
edged in white. The format may have been used since the strongest wood
available for gun carriages and weapons during the Revolution was called
“Purpleheart”, a very strong smooth grain wood from Latin America that
was stronger than the famous English oak. Here was an American wood
that was stronger, more resistant to rot and termites than any other
known wood. Perhaps General Washington chose the American Purpleheart
wood as a symbol of strength and resistance over the British hearts of
English Oak (a popular English military song of the time).
Additional awards of the Purple Heart Medal are denoted by bronze and
silver oak leaf clusters or gold and silver stars, depending on the
recipient’s Service Branch.