Purple Heart Day on August 7 commemorates the creation of the oldest American military decoration for military merit. The Purple Heart honors the men and women who are of the Military Order of the Purple Heart. During the American Revolutionary War, the Badge for Military Merit decorated six known soldiers.
General George Washington created the Badge of Merit in 1782. The honor was to be presented to soldiers for “any singularly meritorious action.” Its design included a purple, heart-shaped piece of silk bound with a thin edge of silver. Across the face, the word Merit was embroidered in silver. While the badge symbolized the courage and devotion of an American Patriot, no one knows who designed the award.
Until Washington’s 200th birthday, the Purple Heart persisted as a Revolutionary War footnote. Through the efforts of General Douglas MacArthur, the U.S. War Department created the Order of the Purple Heart. Today the medal bears a bust of George Washington and his coat of arms.
While an accurate and complete list of names no longer exists, National Geographic recently estimated that nearly 1.9 million Purple Hearts have been awarded since its creation. It’s the oldest U.S. military honor still bestowed upon service members today. Until 1944, the Purple Heart recognized service members’ commendable actions as well. Then in 1944, the requirements limited the award to only those wounded or killed in combat.