National Purple Heart Day
SANTA ANA, Calif.– On August 7th our nation commemorates Purple Heart Day. Many may ask why it is necessary to have yet another day commemorating military veterans. Recently, two events emphasized the importance of this day. Just one month before Purple Heart Day, British comedian Sacha Baron Cohen and Congressman Steve Cohen (no relation) publicly demonstrated an extreme lack of respect for Purple Heart recipients and a poor understanding of what this medal represents.
Sacha Baron Cohen shamelessly and unapologetically attempted to pass himself off as a wounded American veteran to deceive a former U.S. governor. Cohen’s character, by definition, would have been a Purple Heart recipient. The comedian’s deception was part of a television series broadcast in the United States. Congressman Steve Cohen, while seated as a member of the House Judiciary Committee, attempted to create an equivalency between servicemembers killed or wounded on the battlefield and disgraced FBI agent Peter Strzok. Rep. Cohen publicly opined that Strzok deserves a Purple Heart for his appearance before a congressional hearing to answer for his immoral and unethical behavior. These events are disgraceful in their own right, but what is more concerning is that both men believed that their actions would be tolerated if not applauded in certain segments of our society. So, yes, Purple Heart Day is necessary. The sacrifice of servicemembers who wear this decoration must never be dismissed or made the punchline of a pathetic joke.
Every military medal awarded on the field of battle tells a story of courage and sacrifice, however, none more so than the Purple Heart. The Department of Defense awards military medals and ribbons for a wide variety of reasons ranging from distinguished acts to achievement and service. However, most military awards are not conferred for valor or sacrifice in combat. One of the very few medals exclusively awarded for combat action is the Purple Heart. National Purple Heart Day is the day our nation commemorates the medal’s origins and pays special tribute to the members of our armed forces who received wounds or died as a direct result of enemy action.
On August 7, 1782, General George Washington created the Badge of Military Merit, which later became the Purple Heart. The Purple Heart is our country’s oldest military award. In the last 236 years, both the decoration and its award criteria have undergone significant changes. This award originally took the form of a heart fashioned from purple cloth, but it was not conferred for battlefield wounds. Washington awarded the badge for “unusual gallantry, extraordinary fidelity, and essential service” during the American Revolution. Following the war, the decoration fell into disuse.
In 1932, on the 200th anniversary of George Washington’s birth, the Army re-instituted the Badge of Military Merit as the Purple Heart Medal. At this time the medal assumed its current form, but not its current award criteria. The Purple Heart was awarded for battlefield wounds as well as meritorious service. Retroactive to April 6, 1917, soldiers previously awarded the Meritorious Service Citation Certificate, Army Wound Ribbon, or were authorized to wear Wound Chevrons became authorized to receive the Purple Heart Medal. There are also cases of veterans from earlier conflicts, including the Civil War, retroactively receiving the medal. By 1943, the medal was expanded to include all branches of the military and began to be exclusively awarded for wounds received in action against the enemy. Since World War II, provisions to the criteria include posthumous awards and eligibility for wounds received during terrorist attacks, peacekeeping missions, and as a result of friendly fire.
The exact number of Purple Heart Medals awarded since its re-institution is not known. A conservative estimate is that over the last eighty-six years 1.8 million servicemembers have received this medal. It is fair to say that none of the recipients sought this medal, but all deserve the gratitude and respect with which it was awarded.
Ken Witt, SAPD (Retired)