In 1957, the Purple Heart Foundation was established as the fundraising arm of the Military Order of the Purple Heart (MOPH), a congressionally chartered veterans organization comprising a membership body of Purple Heart recipients. Today, the Foundation and MOPH continue to oversee and support a range of programs that help veterans recover and prosper following military service.
To gain a better appreciation of these two organizations and the decorated military members they serve, take a look at these 10 facts about the Purple Heart medal:
The Purple Heart is the oldest military honor in the US.
While it took many more years to evolve into its current look and name, the Purple Heart has a history dating back to the 1780s. Its predecessor, the Badge of Military Merit, was established by President George Washington in 1782. After the medal fell into disuse, General Douglas MacArthur led efforts to revive the honor in the early 1930s, creating the modern-day Purple Heart.
The medal was first awarded during the Revolutionary War.
Elijah Churchill and William Brown of the Continental Army are most commonly credited as being the first Purple Heart recipients. Of course, the two soldiers received the honor under its original title, the Badge of Military Merit. The first modern-day Purple Heart was awarded to the man who helped create it, General Douglas MacArthur.
It was the first military award for lower-ranking soldiers.
Prior to the establishment of the Purple Heart’s predecessor, military honors were typically reserved for officers credited with significant victories in battle. President Washington created the Badge of Military Merit specifically to honor the outstanding service of enlisted soldiers and noncommissioned officers among his troops.
Animals are among the list of Purple Heart recipients.
In its long history, the Purple Heart has been awarded to four-legged recipients. During WWI, a dog named Stubby was awarded two Purple Hearts for his actions with the 102nd Infantry Regiment. A horse named Reckless also received the honor twice for wounds she incurred during the Korean War. Military service animals aren’t currently eligible for the Purple Heart, however.
Many well-known individuals have received the honor.
Over the years, the Purple Heart has been bestowed upon many people who are well-known for their civilian achievements. This includes politicians such as John Kerry and John McCain, writers and filmmakers such as Kurt Vonnegut and Oliver Stone, and actors such as Charles Bronson and James Garner.
The Purple Heart has been awarded to only one US president.
Politicians at all levels of government are among the list of Purple Heart recipients. However, the list of US presidents who have earned the honor contains only one individual: John F. Kennedy.
As a Navy reserve lieutenant during WWII, Kennedy was injured during a boat collision near the Solomon Islands. Despite the injury to his back, he managed to swim to shore and save another soldier. In addition to the Purple Heart, Kennedy was awarded the Navy and Marine Corps Medal for this act.
More Purple Hearts were awarded during WWII than any other conflict.
John F. Kennedy is among a large group of over 1 million people who earned the Purple Heart for their actions during WWII. In total, 1.07 million of the medals were awarded during the war, which is more than all that were awarded in all other 20th-century conflicts combined.
Purple Hearts weren’t always reserved exclusively for injured or mortally wounded service members.
Today, the Purple Heart medal is only awarded to military personnel who are injured or killed during a hostile encounter with enemy forces, but this wasn’t always the case. Originally, the honor could be bestowed on anyone who provided a “meritorious act of extraordinary fidelity” during military action, regardless of whether or not they were injured.
The record for the most Purple Hearts awarded to one individual is in the double digits.
Although a number of service members have earned more than one Purple Heart, the record for the most Purple Hearts in US military history belongs to Curry T. Haynes. During the Vietnam War, the member of the 173rd Airborne Brigade of the 503rd Army Infantry received a series of injuries that later earned him 10 Purple Hearts. Haynes’ injuries occurred as the result of gunfire, grenades, and a B-40 rocket.
Purple Heart Day honors Purple Heart recipients.
On August 7, government agencies, current and former service members, veterans’ organizations, and other groups come together to take part in National Purple Heart Day, which was first observed in 2014. This special day of observance gives people the opportunity to recognize the sacrifices of the men and women who have been injured or killed while serving their country. Ways to get involved include attending an event or donating to groups such as the Purple Heart Foundation.
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