|The Purple Heart was
awarded to three soldiers - Sgts. Elijah Churchill, William Brown,
and Daniel Bissell Jr. On May 3, 1783, Churchill and Brown received
the Purple Heart, then called the Badge of Military Merit, from Gen.
George Washington, its designer and creator. Bissell received his on
June 10, 1783. These three are the only known recipients of the
award during the Revolutionary War.
On August 7, 1782, at his Newburgh, New York headquarters,
Washington devised two badges of distinction to be worn by enlisted
men and noncommissioned officers. The first was a chevron to be worn
on the left sleeve of the coat. It signified loyal military service.
Three years of service with "bravery, fidelity and good conduct"
were the criteria for earning this badge; two chevrons meant six
years of service.
The second, named the Badge of Military Merit, was the "figure of a
heart in purple cloth or silk edged with narrow lace or binding."
This badge was for "any singularly meritorious action" and permitted
the wearer to pass guards and sentinels without challenge. The
honoree's name and regiment were inscribed in a Book of Merit.
After the Revolutionary War, no more Americans soldiers received the
Badge of Military Merit. It was not until October 10, 1927, that
Army Chief of Staff, General Charles P. Summerall, directed a draft
bill to be sent to Congress "to revive the Badge of Military Merit."
The Army withdrew the bill on January 3, 1928, but the Office of the
Adjutant General filed all correspondence for possible future use.
Although a number of private efforts were made to have the medal
reinstituted, it wasn't until January 7, 1931 that Summerall's
successor General Douglas MacArthur, confidentially reopened the
case. His object was to have a new medal issued on the bicentennial
of George Washington's birth.
Miss Elizabeth Will, in the Office of the Quartermaster General,
created the design from guidelines provided her. The only difference
in her design is that a sprig appeared where the profile of
Washington is on the present Purple Heart.
John R. Sinnick of the Philadelphia Mint made the plaster model in
May 1931. The War Department announced the new award on February 22,
After the award was reinstated, recipients of a Meritoriouss Service
Citation Certificate during World War I, along with other eligible
soldiers, could exchange their award for the Purple Heart.
At the same time, revisions to Army regulations defined the
conditions of the award.
"A wound which necessitates treatment by a medical officer and which
is received in action with an enemy, may in the judgment of the
commander authorized to make the award be construed as resulting
from a singularly meritorious act of essential service." At that
time the Navy Department did not authorize the issue of the Purple
Heart, but Franklin D. Roosevelt amended that. By Executive Order on
December 3, 1942, the award was extended to the Navy, Marine Corps,
and the Coast Guard beginning December 6, 1941.
President Harry S. Truman retroactively extended eligibility to the
Navy, Marine Corps, and Coast Guard to April 5, 1917, to cover World
President John F. Kennedy extended eligibility on April 25, 1962, to
"any civilian national of the United States who, while serving under
competent authority in any capacity with an armed force..., has
been, or may hereafter be, wounded."
President Ronald Regan, on February 23, 1984, amended President
Kennedy's order, to include those wounded or killed as a result of
"an international terrorist attack."
Army regulations, amended June 20, 1969, state that any "member of
the Army who was awarded the Purple Heart for meritorious
achievement or service, as opposed to wounds received in action,
between December 7, 1941 and September 22, 1943, may apply for award
of an appropriate decoration in lieu of the Purple Heart."
There are no records of the first individual who received the
revived and redesigned Purple Heart. Local posts of the American
Legion and the Adjutant Generals of state National Guards both held
ceremonies to honor recipients.
What Washington wrote in his orderly book on August 7, 1782 still
"The road to glory in a patriot
army and a free country is thus open to all. This order is also to
have retrospect to the earliest stages of the war, and to be
considered a permanent one."
Shortly after the award was
re-instituted a group of combat wounded veterans in Ansonia,
Connecticut, formed the first chapter of the civilian organization
whose membership was composed of recipients of the decoration. Their
action gave birth to a fraternal body which, until then, had been
just a record on paper. The living organization grew rapidly during
and after World War II and is now a nationwide body. It became known
as the "MILITARY ORDER OF THE PURPLE HEART of the United States of
America, Inc." (M.O.P.H.) The organization was chartered by Congress
by H.R. 13558 which became Public Law 85-761, on August 26, 1958.