In August 1782 Gen. George Washington, then the commander-in-chief of the Continental Army, designated a badge to be presented to his soldiers for “singularly meritorious action.” The badge of merit was simple in design: a purple silk heart edged in silver and emblazoned with the word “Merit” in silver across its face. This award was presented to just three soldiers throughout the duration of the Revolutionary War and was otherwise largely forgotten until being revived, redesigned and renamed close to 150 years later. 

In 1927 a bill was sent to Congress seeking to bring the Badge of Merit back into use. In the years following, Gen. Douglas McArthur advocated for the medal to be reinstated in time for an imminent historic event. On Feb. 22, 1932, Washington’s 200th birthday, a presidential executive order officially reinstated the award under a new name – the Purple Heart. The first award, which is now given to those wounded or killed in action, was presented to McArthur himself. More than 1.5 million Purple Hearts were manufactured in anticipation of casualties in World War II after atomic bombs were dropped, nearly 500,000 medals were left stockpiled. Those lasted through Korea, Vietnam, Iraq and Afghanistan, with more remaining for later need.

We know the Purple Heart – the oldest military award given to U.S. service members — will have a place in our military as long as we have sons and daughters engaged in global conflicts. On Aug. 7, we made time on Purple Heart Day to recognize all those who have been killed or wounded in military service, for their sacrifices to the nation. To all those who have received the Purple Heart, we salute you.

Anne Knight

Public relations

American Legion Auxiliary