Purple Heart Day, on August 7th, commemorates the creation of the oldest American military decoration for military merit. The Purple Heart honors the men and women who are of the Military Order of the Purple Heart. During the American Revolutionary War, the Badge for Military Merit decorated six known soldiers.
General George Washington created the Badge of Merit in 1782. Washington intended the honor to be presented to soldiers for “any singularly meritorious action.” Its design included a purple, heart-shaped piece of silk bound with a thin edge of silver. Across the face, the word Merit was embroidered in silver. While the badge symbolized the courage and devotion of an American Patriot, no one knows who designed the award.
Until Washington’s 200th birthday, the Purple Heart persisted as a Revolutionary War footnote. Through the efforts of General Douglas MacArthur, the U.S. War Department created the Order of the Purple Heart. Today the medal bears a bust of George Washington and his coat of arms.
While an accurate and complete list of names no longer exists, National Geographic recently estimated that nearly 1.9 million service members have earned Purple Hearts since its creation. It is the oldest U.S. military honor still bestowed upon service members today. Until 1944, the Purple Heart recognized service members’ commendable actions as well. Then in 1944, the requirements limited the award to only those wounded or killed in combat.
Purple Heart Firsts
- William Brown and Elijah Churchill received the Badge of Military Merit during the Revolutionary War when the award first replaced the Fidelity Medallion.
- Army General Douglas MacArthur received the first modern-day Purple Heart.
- Army Lt. Annie G. Fox received the Purple Heart during World War II for her actions during the attack on Pearl Harbor.
HOW TO OBSERVE #PurpleHeartDay
Honor everyone who has received a Purple Heart. Learn more about the Military Order of the Purple Heart.
While celebrating the heroes who earned the Purple Heart, learn more about them.
- Read For Military Merit: Recipients of the Purple Heart by Fred L. Borch or Purple Heart by Patricia McCormick.
- Watch a documentary like Purple Heart Warriors: Tears of a Warrior by Tony Seahorn.
- Visit a military museum like the National Purple Heart Hall of Honor or The National WWII Museum.
Use #PurpleHeartDay to post on social media.
PURPLE HEART DAY HISTORY
Since 1932, Americans have celebrated Purple Heart Day on both Washington’s birthday and Valentine’s Day. Some states and cities observed the day in their own way at different times throughout the year. Each declaration encouraged citizens to support wounded veterans with the purchase of a purple viola.
No matter when the observance occurred, it recognized the men and women killed and wounded in combat and their heroic actions. As the day evolved, it more commonly was observed on the day of the Purple Heart’s creation, August 7, 1782.
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On This Day in History
The first U.S. Congress created the United States Lighthouse Establishment bringing all lighthouses under the responsibility of the federal government. It was the first public works law passed.
An election day battle between the Hatfields and McCoys leads to the death of Ellison McCoy.
Theophilus Van Kannel patents the first successful revolving door. He would later sell his business, Van Kannel Revolving Door Co., to International Steel. Today, Kannel’s original invention lives on through revolving doors made by International Revolving Door Co.
Howard Hughes is awarded the Congressional Gold Medal by Congress. The eccentric billionaire, aviator, and entrepreneur never appeared to receive the medal, however. The Congressional Gold Medal along with the Presidental Medal of Freedom are the two highest honors a civilian can receive in the United States.
Legislation passed approving a Booker T. Washington memorial silver half dollar. The former slave is known for advising presidents and establishing the Tuskegee Normal and Industrial Institute.
American, Alice Coachman earns gold at the London, Olympics in the high jump. Her achievement made her the first Black woman to ever win Olympic gold.
Congress passes the Civil Rights Act of 1957. The limited legislation was the first of its kind in the 20th century. It primarily focused on voting and juries and established the Commission on Civil Rights.
NASA launches Explorer 6 into orbit around the Earth. Equipped with photography technology, the satellite sent back the first photos of Earth.
Arnold Palmer earns his 20th PGA Tour win of his career. That year, he would go on to win one more at the Mobile Sertoma Open Invitational.
The Baseball Hall of Fame admits Yogi Berra. As an icon of baseball, Yogi was known for is turns of phrase. Some examples include, “No one goes there nowadays, it’s too crowded,” “A nickel ain’t worth a dime anymore,” or “It gets late early out here.” Others inducted to the Hall of Fame that year were Sandy Koufax, Early Wynn, Lefty Gomez, Ross Youngs, Will Harridge, Buck Leonard and Josh Gibson.
Operation Desert Shield begins when military assistance was ordered to Kuwait’s defense during the early days of the Gulf War.
Louisiana State University’s 7’1″ center, Shaquille O’Neal signs with the Orlando Magic as a first draft pick.
Ada Deer is sworn in as the Assistant Secretary of the Interior and the first woman to hold the position of head of the Bureau of Indian Affairs. The day of her swearing-in was also her birthday.
Greg Maddox joins the 300 Win Club when he pitches his 300th career game win. The Cubs won against the Giants.
A veteran of 20 seasons with the NFL, Jerry Rice is elected to the Pro Football Hall of Fame. Others in the 2010 class included Emmitt Smith, John Randle, Russ Grim, Rickey Jackson, Dick LeBeau and Floyd Little.
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