This Date in History: The Purple Heart

This Date in History: The Purple Heart

When the commander-in-chief of the Continental Army proposed a new award for military bravery, he had no idea that it would continue to this day, or carry his likeness.

General George Washington chose to call the decoration the Badge of Military Merit. It was created on August 7, 1782, but went away almost as quickly as it was established. In fact, only three Revolutionary War soldiers were awarded the honor.

Fast forward to 1927, when Army Chief of Staff General Charles Summerall decided to revive the decoration. He sent a bill to Congress asking that Badge of Military Merit be restored, but the legislation was withdrawn and action to bring back the honor ended.

In 1931, Summerall's successor, General Douglas MacArthur, successfully reopened work on the award and decided a new design was in order. He enlisted the help of Elizabeth Will from the Washington Commission of Fine Arts.

The name of the award changed to the Purple Heart, and Will came up with the current design, featuring a bust and profile of George Washington. The first Purple Heart went to General MacArthur himself on Feb., 22, 1932, the 200th Anniversary of Washington's birth.

During World War II, nearly 500,000 Purple Heart medals were manufactured in anticipation of the estimated casualties resulting from the planned invasion of Japan. To date, the total combined American military casualties have not exceeded that number.

The Purple Heart is awarded in the name of the president to any member of the U.S. Armed Forces who, while serving under competent authority in any capacity with the armed services after April 5, 1917, has been wounded or killed.

Notable recipients have included well-known actors, such as Lee Marvin and James Garner; military leaders, Norman Schwarzkopf and Colin Powell; and politicians, John McCain and John Kerry.

World War II hero Audie Murphy was awarded three Purple Hearts and the Medal of Honor.

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