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History of Order of the Purple Heart

Dr. Jim Surrell

Every year, on Aug. 7, our nation celebrates National Purple Heart Day. This is a day when we recognize our military heroes who have been wounded or have given their life in military service to our great country.

These committed personnel are then awarded the Purple Heart medal. Following is the definition of the Purple Heart Medal; “The Purple Heart Medal is awarded to members of the armed forces of the United States who are wounded by an instrument of war in the hands of the enemy and posthumously to the next of kin in the name of those who are killed in action or die of wounds received in action. It is specifically a combat decoration.”

The Purple Heart Medal is frequently described as the United States military’s oldest medal. General George Washington created this medal in 1782 to recognize meritorious military service, basically bravery in combat, but it later fell into disuse. Subsequently, in 1932, to mark the bicentennial of General George Washington’s birth, General Douglas MacArthur spearheaded an effort to revive the Purple Heart Medal.

It was designed to commemorate bravery, but also to recognize soldiers with wounds. Later, during World War II, qualification for the medal was changed to become a national honor to appropriately recognize military combat injuries and deaths.

Following are just a few of some of the many significant events that highlight the history of the Purple Heart Medal. April 28, 1942: The military now allows posthumous award of Purple Heart Medal after the very heavy loss of life at Pearl Harbor. Sept. 4, 1942: The United States War Department designates the Purple Heart Medal exclusively for wounds or deaths in combat. Aug. 2, 1943: John F. Kennedy was wounded in action that resulted in a Purple Heart Medal. President Kennedy is the only United States President to have received the honor of receiving a Purple Heart Medal. Aug. 15, 1944: Major General Robert T. Frederick was awarded his eighth Purple Heart Medal. This is believed to be the record for the number of these medals awarded to any soldier in a single conflict.

Over the many years of this special recognition, it is estimated that the military has awarded approximately 1.7 million Purple Heart Medals to our great military personnel of the Army, Navy, Air Force, Marine Corps and Coast Guard. Unlike other military awards, the Purple Heart is an entitlement and it does not depend upon the recommendation of a superior officer.

Instead, the military gives it to the families of those troops who have died in combat, and to those who have been wounded who meet the following criteria: In general, the combat wound must have occurred during hostilities and it must have required treatment that was documented by a military medical officer.

At the present time, it is estimated the total number of personnel serving our country is approximately 1.4 million active duty military personnel. In addition, there are approximately 800,000 personnel serving in our military reserve units. These seven military reserve units include the Army National Guard, Army Reserve, Navy Reserve, Marine Corps Reserve, Air National Guard, Air Force Reserve, and the Coast Guard Reserve. We all owe so much to our military personnel, past and present.

If you have a family member, or know someone or who has a family member who has received a Purple Heart Medal, offer them your most sincere thanks for their committed service to our country. Let us always remember that, with regard to our veterans and military personnel, “All gave some, and some gave all.”

EDITOR’S NOTE: Dr. Jim Surrell is the author of “The ABC’s For Success In All We Do” and the “SOS (Stop Only Sugar) Diet” books. Requests for health topics for this column are encouraged. Contact Dr. Surrell by email at sosdietdoc@gmail.com.