Written by: Aiya Madarang
August 7 is National Purple Heart Day, a day when we commemorate the creation of the Purple Heart medal and its recipients. On this day, military organizations and community groups might hold remembrance meetings to honor Purple Heart recipients and veterans. American flags can be seen flying outside of businesses and homes, and some baseball teams may hold special pre-game ceremonies.
While the criteria for receiving the Purple Heart has changed slightly over time, it now includes any member of the Armed Forces who has been wounded or killed as a result of enemy action, friendly fire, or an act of international terrorism.
The Purple Heart medal is known as our nation’s oldest military honor. Its origins date back to 1782, when General George Washington established the Badge of Military Merit to honor those who fought bravely and in harsh conditions during the Revolutionary War. The original badge was a heart covered in purple cloth or silk, to be worn over the heart. The following year, it was awarded to three soldiers.
On the bicentennial of Washington’s birthday in 1932, the honor was officially revived as the Purple Heart medal. Its design, still in use today, consisted of a purple heart with a gold border around it and a small profile of Washington on the front, also in gold. The first Purple Hearts were awarded to those killed or wounded in combat during World War II. They were also awarded to wounded veterans from prior conflicts, including the Civil War and the Spanish-American War.
An estimated 1.8 million Purple Heart medals have been awarded throughout American history. Some of the recipients have recognizable names, such as the novelist Kurt Vonnegut, who was taken prisoner by the Germans in World War II; The Twilight Zone writer Rod Serling; and famous actors like James Arness, Charles Bronson, and James Garner. Notable politicians on the list include John F. Kennedy, the only president to have received the honor; former Secretary of State John Kerry, who earned three; and the late John McCain, former US Senator from Arizona.
National Purple Heart Day serves as an opportunity to remember those throughout history as well as our close loved ones who have received this honor for their outstanding bravery. The Purple Heart Foundation, which raises funds for the Military Order of the Purple Heart, encourages donating time and money to any organization that supports Purple Heart recipients.