What the Purple Heart means, and why we honor it

By Stephan Drew


This Saturday, Aug. 7, we celebrate Purple Heart Appreciation Day. For the few who may not know, the Purple Heart is issued to members of the military who have been injured or killed while serving. It is the oldest award still given in the U.S. Armed Forces, although the name has changed during its history. Originally called the Badge of Military Merit, it was established on Aug. 7, 1782, by Gen. George Washington, then Commander-in-Chief of the Continental Army. It was in the shape of a heart made of purple silk, edged in silver with the word “MERIT” stitched in silver across the front. From his headquarters in Newburgh, N.Y., Washington personally issued the awards to three Revolutionary War soldiers. After that, he authorized his subordinate officers to issue them as appropriate. After all, he did have troops to direct and a war to fight. Following the American Revolution, no more were granted until after World War I. In October 1927, Army Chief Gen. Charles Pelot Summerall helped draft a congressional bill “to revive the Badge of Military Merit.” It was withdrawn and no one took action on it for several years. However, Summerall directed that his office staff file all material collected for possible future use. On Jan. 7, 1931, Summerall’s successor, Gen. Douglas MacArthur, operating in strict confidence, initiated a new design for the award. Elizabeth Will, a heraldic specialist in the U.S. Army, was chosen for the work. She created the bust of George Washington in gold, resting on a purple heart. On Feb. 22, 1932, by Executive Order of President Herbert Hoover, the award was revived on the 200th anniversary of Washington’s birth. The first “new” Purple Heart was issued to Gen. MacArthur. Actually, he received two for his previous service in World War I. From 1932 until the early 1960s, all Purple Hearts awarded had to be applied for personally by the actual wounded soldier. In April 1962, President John F. Kennedy signed an executive order allowing them to be awarded posthumously. It would be retroactively issued to those injured during enemy action in World War I, the Civil War, Indian Wars, Spanish-American War and the Boxer Rebellion. In 1984, President Ronald Reagan signed another executive order, permitting the issue of Purple Hearts as a result of terrorist attacks or while serving in a peacekeeping force. Nearly 2,000,000 have been awarded since its inception. Every single one of them to a loyal, courageous American. These heroic souls lost eyes, ears, skin, arms, legs and many lost their lives in service to our country. They made these tremendous sacrifices to keep us safe and allow us the very rights and freedoms we take for granted every day. They have gone far beyond what was expected and we have benefited tremendously from their sacrifices. There hasn’t been an attack on this country in 20 years and, even that one is somewhat questionable. It was 80 years before that when we were previously attacked, far away from our mainland. These brave men and women who suffered such devastating losses have kept us from experiencing the horrors that go on in other parts of the world continuously. They did it because they love this great country. Yes, even with all of our faults, we are still the greatest nation in the history of the world. We have work to do on a number of things, but they fought for that, too. You see, these hardworking, intelligent, brave men and women, knowing we are human beings – fierce, independent, resilient and sometimes cantankerous – they also knew we have enormous possibilities. We have always been stubborn in our resolve. You won’t find many of us giving up or giving in. We’re Americans and we’ll find a way to get it done. We may stumble occasionally, we may even fall sometimes. But we always get back up, taking what we learned and using it to make tomorrow better. Through all of our struggles, our internal strife and all of the experiments we have tried, we always made sure that light was kept burning brightly at the top of that hill. The freedoms, choices and dreams we possess are the sacred qualities they fought and died for. That American Ideal, the idea that you can (through your own effort and wisdom) achieve anything you wish in this great land of ours. In the United States, you can create whatever you can dream. They suffered for not only what this country is but for what it can be. We owe them a debt of gratitude we can never repay. They made tremendous sacrifices and, we shall honor them as long as we live, freely, safely in the security and peace they bought for us with their own bodies. If you see a service member, please ask to shake their hand, tell them “thank you” and maybe even buy them a meal or a cup of coffee to show your gratitude. God knows they’ve earned that and much, much more. We owe them our profound respect and heartfelt admiration. And I will never allow our military to be criticized in my presence. I hope you feel the same. Celebrate Purple Heart Appreciation Day this Saturday. Please, respect and honor our military without any pause. They don’t take breaks in their service toward you. I hope everyone has a wonderful weekend. Thank you to all Purple Heart recipients and to ALL of our military, past and present. We wouldn’t be the great nation we are without you.

Author: Stephan Drew

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