Honoring the Ultimate Sacrifice: National Purple Heart Day

8/7/2021

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Each year on August 7, we recognize National Purple Heart Day—a day dedicated to remembering and honoring those brave men and women who represented our country and were either wounded or killed as a result of enemy action while serving. The Purple Heart is given in the name of the President and is a solemn distinction that means a service member has greatly sacrificed him or herself, or paid the ultimate price, while in the line of duty.

Relatively new, this day of recognition was first observed in 2014, and has been observed every year since, although it is not considered an official Federal holiday. Purple Heart Day can be honored in many ways:

  • States, counties and cities pause in recognition of the service and sacrifice of their local sons and daughters, as do sports and entertainment entities.
  • Major League Baseball teams pay homage to their local Purple Heart recipients during special pre-game and seventh inning ceremonies.
  • Veteran and military organizations hold remembrance meetings for fallen heroes and special events to thank soldiers, veterans and Purple Heart recipients.
  • American flags are flown at homes and businesses.

Who Receives a Purple Heart?

According to the National Purple Heart Hall of Honor, more than 1.8 million Purple Heart medals have been presented to service members since the award was created. You may be wondering exactly who is eligible.

In a short summary, the Purple Heart is awarded for injuries sustained due to enemy attack, including acts of terrorism. It is also given to those who were injured, wounded, or died while a prisoner of war (POW). Injuries sustained due to things “not caused by enemy agents” are generally not acceptable as grounds for receiving the Purple Heart, with the exception of friendly fire injuries, if the friendly fire was intended for the enemy. See the entire list of criteria here.

The Long History of the Purple Heart

Although Purple Heart Day is less than a decade old, the Purple Heart itself has a long and winding history. Originally it was called the Badge of Military Merit, an honor created by General George Washington in 1782 in the form of a cloth purple heart. It was presented to enlisted soldiers who had performed a “singularly meritorious action.” Only a handful of these were awarded. Despite its importance at the time, the Badge of Military Merit was not a permanent fixture among the various military awards and decorations.

The spirit of the Badge of Military Merit arose again in 1932, when General Douglas MacArthur refreshed and renamed the award. Incorporating the likeness of George Washington, the modern Purple Heart was created to honor the bicentennial of Washington’s birthday. At this time, the Purple Heart was a combat decoration solely for the Army or Army Air Corps, recognizing commendable action as well as those wounded or killed in combat. It was not given posthumously or given to the recipient’s family.

Then in 1942, President Roosevelt and the War Department broadened eligibility qualifications for receiving a Purple Heart, designating it for all those wounded or killed in action, regardless of military branch. They also gave authorization to award posthumous Purple Heart medals. 

The Purple Heart was one of the first military medals given to all military ranks, including enlisted soldiers and non-commissioned officers. It is the oldest military award still presented to American service members today.

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