History behind the Medal...
The Purple Heart traces its history
back to the Revolutionary War. On August 7, 1782, George Washington
created the Badge of Military Merit. In the General Orders creating
the badge, Washington wrote it was intended to be awarded for
"not only instances of unusual gallantry, but also of extraordinary
fidelity and essential service." The badge, which was made
from purple silk outlined with silver braid with the word Merit
embroidered on it, was only awarded three times during the war
and fell into disuse.
After World War I, the Army wanted
a medal to be awarded for lesser acts of military merit and service,
ones that were not covered by the Distinguished Service Medal
but deserved recognition. After much study and discussion, President
Herbert Hoover directed Army Chief Of Staff General Douglas MacArthur
to publish orders for reinstitution the Purple Heart as it was
now known. It was reinstated on February 22, 1932, the 200th anniversary
of the birth of George Washington.
General MacArthur made an important
change to the award criteria when he added that the medal could
be awarded to those who were wounded in action which necessitated
the attention of a doctor. Originally the medal was not intended
for those killed in action. It was made retroactive, so one can
find Purple Hearts awarded to Union veterans for wounds received
in the Civil War. These are very rare however, because the number
of Civil War veterans who lived into the 1930s are very small.
During World War II, many changes
were made in award criteria. It was originally intended for Army
troops only, or for Marines, Sailors and Coast Guardsmen serving
alongside Army troops. On December 3, 1942, President Roosevelt
signed an executive order authorizing the Navy to award the medal.
Later, it the criteria was changed to allow it to be given to
next-of-kin of troops killed in action, retroactively to December
7, 1941. Also, the criteria for merit or service was dropped altogether
making it to be awarded for wounds or death only. Nearly one million
Purple Hearts were awarded during the war, including 292,131 medals
for those killed in action. Later, the criteria was changed to
include those who were held as prisoners of war.
For those who question whether the
United States was right to drop the atomic bomb, the military
anticipated such a large number of casualties in the invasion
of Japan they placed a huge order for Purple Hearts to be produced.
Since the dropping of the bomb ended the war, the invasion was
unnecessary. Those Purple Hearts produced for the invasion of
Japan fulfilled the need in both the Korean and Vietnam Wars.
In fact, stocks still exist of World War II-era Purple Hearts.