A Day to Honor Purple Heart Recipients

Purple Heart
Purple Heart

Did you realize that today is Purple Heart Day? Each year on August 7th, the Military Order of the Purple Heart of the U.S.A. Inc. (MPOH) asks Americans to pause to remember and honor the brave men and women who were wounded or who died on the battlefield. The Purple Heart concept was born on this date.

The medal known as the Purple Heart began its history as the “Badge of Military Merit” (shown below). On 7 August 1782 in Newburgh, New York, General George Washington ordered the creation of a badge of distinction for enlisted men and non-commissioned officers. The badge took the form of a heart in purple cloth, mostly in silk. It was edged with narrow lace or binding and was pinned to a uniform coat above the left breast.

The Badge of Military Merit was awarded to only three Revolutionary War soldiers and fell into disuse following that War of Independence. Although never abolished, the award languished in the shadows until after World War I. On 10 October 1927, then Army Chief of Staff General Charles Pelot Summerall directed that a draft bill be sent to Congress “to revive the Badge of Military Merit.”

The bill later was withdrawn, and on 7 January 1931, Summerall’s successor, General Douglas MacArthur, confidentially reopened work on a new design for the award, involving the Washington Commission of Fine Arts. Elizabeth Will, an Army heraldic specialist in the Office of the Quartermaster General, was named to redesign the newly revived medal, which became known as the Purple Heart.

Badge of Military Merit
Badge of Military Merit

Using general directions, Will created the design sketch for the present medal shown above, and this new design was issued on the bicentennial of George Washington’s birth. MacArthur became the first recipient of this new Purple Heart.

During the early period of American involvement in World War II, the Purple Heart was awarded both for wounds received in action against the enemy and for meritorious performance of duty. With the establishment of the Legion of Merit by an Act of Congress, the practice of awarding the Purple Heart for meritorious service was discontinued. By Executive Order 9277, dated 3 December 1942, the decoration was extended to be applicable to all services and required that regulations of the Services be uniform in application as far as practical. This executive order also authorized the award only for wounds received.

The organization now known as the “Military Order of the Purple Heart of the U.S.A. Inc.” (MOPH) was formed in 1932 for the protection and mutual interest of all who have received the decoration. Chartered by the Congress, The MOPH is unique among Veteran Service Organizations in that all its members were wounded in combat. For this sacrifice, they were awarded the Purple Heart Medal.

With grants from the MOPH Service Foundation, the MOPH and its Ladies Auxiliary promote patriotism, fraternalism, and the preservation of America’s military history. Most importantly, they provide comfort and assistance to all Veterans and their families, especially those requiring claims assistance with the VA, those who are homeless, and those requiring employment assistance. MOPH volunteers through the VAVS program, provide assistance to hospitalized veterans at VA sites and State Veterans Homes.

The Purple Heart is awarded to any member of the U.S. Armed Forces who has been wounded or who died as a result of a wound in battle. This distinction now includes any military personnel who died in captivity while a prisoner of war (POW).


  • War I: 250,000¹
  • War II: 964,409
  • Korea: 136,936
  • Vietnam: 200,676
  • Persian Gulf: 590
  • Afghanistan: 3,495 *
  • Iraq: 34,808 *

Total Estimated: 1.7 M¹

NOTE¹: Estimates only. Battlefield awards and incomplete records; 1974 fire in St. Louis repository.

*Data as of 6/20/2009

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