National Purple Heart Day
Lois A. Schaefer, State Americanism Chairman
Department of North Dakota VFW Auxiliary
National Purple Heart Day is celebrated on Aug. 7. The Purple Heart is our country’s oldest medal that is still awarded to members of our military.
The Purple Heart’s first predecessor was created by the Continental Congress in 1780 and was called the Fidelity Medallion. It was only awarded to three soldiers and never bestowed again, so it is thought of more as a commemorative, and the Badge of Military Merit considered to be the first U.S. military decoration.
The Badge of Military Merit was created by General George Washington on Aug. 7, 1782, to recognize brave soldiers of the Revolutionary War. Originally, the medal was a heart-shaped piece of cloth and was awarded for bravery, fidelity, and good conduct.
On Feb. 22, 1932, the 200th Anniversary of George Washington’s birth, thanks to the work of Army General Douglas MacArthur, the Badge of Military Merit was revived and the new award was called the Purple Heart. The Purple Heart medal is still heart-shaped, purple and gold, and portrays the image of George Washington. In 1942, President Franklin Roosevelt and the War Department further defined and expanded its eligibility qualifications. The Purple Heart is now awarded to members of all branches of military service for meritorious performance of duty, who have been wounded, died in captivity as a POW, or killed as a result of enemy action.
In rare instances the medal has been awarded to animals holding military rank serving our country in time of war, just like our military members. Two animals that received the Purple Heart are a horse named Sergeant Reckless and a dog named Sergeant Stubby.
More than 1.9 million Purple Heart medals have been awarded, of which more than 1 million were awarded during World War II.