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The Purple Heart

The Purple Heart

Posted by This content is courtesy of The American Patriot's Almanac © 2008, 2010 by William J. Bennett and John T.E. Cribb on 7th Aug 2018

The Purple Heart
On August 7, 1782, George Washington created the Purple Heart, America’s oldest military decoration. Washington called the award the Badge of Military Merit. His order of that day read in part:

The General, ever desirous to cherish virtuous ambition in his soldiers as well as foster and encourage every species of military merit, directs that whenever any singularly meritorious action is performed, the author of it shall be permitted to wear on his facings, over his left breast, the figure of a heart in purple cloth or silk edged with narrow lace or binding. Not only instances of unusual gallantry but also of extraordinary fidelity and essential service in any way shall meet with due reward.

The badge permitted the wearer to pass sentinels without challenge. Only three soldiers – Elijah Churchill, William Brown, and Daniel Bissell Jr. – are known to have received the award during the Revolutionary War.

After the Revolution the badge fell out of use. In 1932 the military revived the decoration to help celebrate the two hundredth anniversary of George Washington’s birth. The Order of the Purple Heart is now awarded to members of the armed services who have been wounded or killed in action. The modern medal has a bronze heart bearing Washington’s silhouette in its purple center and the Washington coat-of-arms at the top.

Why did George Washington choose purple? No one is sure, but for ages purple had been the color of royalty. In Washington’s eyes the common soldier who sacrificed for his country deserved as much respect as a king. As he wrote in his order creating the decoration, “The road to glory in a patriot army and a free country is thus open to all.”