The Purple Heart Award: 231 Years of Military Merit

The Badge of Military Merit

The Badge of Military Merit ( courtesy photo)

Story by William Selby, Defense Media Activity

The Purple Heart is a medal awarded to service members who are wounded by “an instrument of war in the hands of the enemy,” and today is the 231st anniversary of creation.

This award is almost as old as the United States itself. It got it’s beginnings during the twilight of the American Revolution.

Gen. George Washington wanted to recognize soldiers for their efforts and boost morale, despite the Continental Congress forbidding him from granting commissions and rank promotions in recognition of merit. As the old adage goes, “where there’s a will, there’s a way.” On August 7, 1782, Gen. Washington’s General Order established the Badge of Military Merit:

“… The General ever desirous to cherish virtuous ambition in his soldiers, as well as to foster and encourage every species of Military merit directs whenever any singularly meritorious action is performed, the author of it shall be permitted to wear on his facings, over his left breast, the figure of a heart in purple cloth or silk edged with narrow lace or binding. Not only instances of unusual gallantry, but also of extraodinary fidelity and essential service in any way shall meet with a due reward.” – Gen. George Washington

Photo: Front and back view of a Purple Heart Medal

Front and back view of a Purple Heart Medal

Three men were awarded the Badge of Military Merit following the Revolution. Sadly, the award fell to the wayside after the war and no other awards were made. It was revived in 1932 in honor of George Washington’s 200th birthday and subsequently awarded as the Purple Heart. In 1962, it was opened to be awarded as a posthumous decoration.

The Purple Heart is the oldest known U.S. military decoration still in use.

It would be nice to say the Purple Heart is no longer awarded due to lack of conflicts but that sadly isn’t the case. However, if the numbers prove anything, it’s that patriotism and camaraderie are alive and well in our country.


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