The “Purple Heart”, formerly titled the “Badge of Military Merit”, is the oldest military decoration in the world still in use. The decoration is awarded to those wounded or killed as a result of engaging the enemy while serving in the U.S. military.
During the War for Independence, the Badge of Military Merit was the first decoration for enlisted persons in the armed forces and the first for officers in the U.S. Army.
The color purple was prescribed in the order with no reason given. One can speculate that purple may have been chosen because it was known, in heraldic circles, as a royal color or a color of distinction. Purple had previously been prescribed for use in the American Army only once, when ribbons worn across the breast of officers were designated in 1775. In the version of these orders published July 20, 1775, purple ribbons were prescribed for major generals.
General Douglas MacArthur began work on a new design, which involved the Commission of Fine Arts. General MacArthur saw an opportunity to commemorate the 200th anniversary of the birth of George Washington and at the same time establish a newly designed Badge of Military Merit for use by the Army. When he received the draft of the implementing General Orders, he crossed out "Badge of Military Merit" and wrote in "Purple Heart" instead. Thus it was on February 22, 1932, that MacArthur issued Order No. 3, The Order of the Purple Heart. Year 2007, marks the Silver Anniversary of this event.
Description of the Purple Heart: On a purple enameled heart within a bronze border a profile head in relief of General George Washington in military uniform. Above the enameled heart the shield of Washington's coat of arms between two sprays of leaves in proper colors. On the reverse below the shield and leaves without enamel a raised bronze heart with the inscription, 'For Military Merit,' with a space for the name of the recipient (which is to be engraved).
The Purple Heart is ranked immediately behind the Bronze Star in order of precedence among the personal awards. It is generally acknowledged to be among the most aesthetically pleasing of American awards and decorations.
Today, we are again placing our military personnel in harm's way and many Purple Hearts have been pinned on contemporary veterans, both hospitalized and ambulatory, or have been given to the next of kin of fallen service members.
It is difficult to fathom that since General George Washington established the Purple Heart decoration on August 7, 1782, approximately 1,635,000 Purple Heart medals have been awarded to members of the United States military. Today we have more than 500,000 living veterans who are Purple Heart recipients.