The 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.