Aug. 7 is Purple Heart Day, marking the day in 1782 when George Washington established the Badge for Military Merit, the forerunner of the Purple Heart. It wasn't until 1932, under the guidance of Army General Douglas MacArthur, that the Purple Heart received its modern-day look and name.
The National Purple Heart Hall of Honor, located in New Windsor, N.Y., stands as the nation's sole repository dedicated to preserving the stories of Purple Heart recipients. Though it's temporarily closed and preparing for an expansion this winter, the Hall has noted that around 1.8 million Purple Hearts have been awarded. However, records aren’t comprehensive due to fires and other mishaps. In fact, inclusion in the Hall relies on information from recipients or their families.
Delving into its rich history, only three of Washington’s badges are documented to have been presented: awarded to Sgt. Elijah Churchill, Sgt. William Brown, and Sgt. Daniel Bissell. Fascinatingly, this award enabled enlisted men to bypass all guards and sentinels, receiving the same privileges as commissioned officers. The Purple Heart's nature evolved over time, initially considered a merit award until 1942 when the Legion of Merit was introduced. And from 1962 to 1998, even civilians, under specific military conditions, were eligible for the Purple Heart.
Many notable figures have been honored with the Purple Heart. John F. Kennedy stands out as the only U.S. president to receive one during his service in the Navy in World War II.
Other illustrious recipients span fields from entertainment to politics: actors like James Arness and James Garner, writers such as Kurt Vonnegut, athletes like Pat Tillman, and politicians including John Kerry and John McCain, to name a few.
Breaking barriers, in 1942, Army Lt. Annie G. Fox became the first woman to be awarded a Purple Heart for her valor during the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor. Notably, even non-human heroes like Sgt. Stubby (a dog) and Sgt. Reckless (a horse) have been recognized with Purple Hearts. The record for the most Purple Hearts awarded to a single individual goes to Curry Haynes, an Army serviceman during the Vietnam War, with a total of 10 Purple Hearts to his name.
For those seeking a Purple Heart or any other medal that you or a loved one has earned, archives.gov provides information on how to make a request. As a final note of admiration, the Purple Heart remains the oldest military decoration still given to service members. The purple hue of the award is believed to symbolize courage and bravery, a fitting tribute to its recipients.
From all of us at The Westside VFW Post 8058, we extend our heartfelt gratitude to all Purple Heart recipients. Your sacrifices and dedication to our nation are immeasurable. Thank you.