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5 Things You Didn't Know About the Purple Heart

On August 7, 1782, General George Washington, the commander in chief of the Continental Army, created the “Badge for Military Merit,” otherwise known as a “Purple Heart.”  See how much you recall about this symbol of courage and sacrifice that was designed to honor the bravest of the brave in American history.

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The Badge Was Originally Created for Those Who Served in the Revolutionary War. # The Badge of Military Merit, later changed to the Purple Heart, was originally awarded to men who showed bravery in action. Image source: Bigstock The original Purple Heart was a white-colored ribbon with a heart-shaped emblem embroidered out of purple cloth. Only three were awarded by the end of the Revolutionary War when it was discontinued. One was given to Sergeant Daniel Bissell, who acted as a spy against the British, and the other two were awarded to Sergeant William Brown for his courage at Yorktown and Sergeant Elijah Churchill for two raids against fortifications held by the British.

The Purple Heart Wasn’t Reinstated Until World War II. # The above Badge of Merit was the one awarded to Elijah Churchill, who was a Continental Army soldier from Connecticut. Image source: WikiCommons Major General Douglas MacArthur was instrumental in reviving the award, and it was renamed the Purple Heart in 1932. MacArthur himself received the first one for his participation in 1942 in the American Expeditionary Force in France. The commendation was expanded by President Franklin D. Roosevelt to include members of any service branch who had been wounded during action when fighting against an enemy of America.

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Some Civilians Were Awarded the Purple Heart. Civilians have also been awarded with the Purple Heart over the years. One was Ernie Pyle, the combat journalist, who was given the award after he was killed by gunfire while he was reporting the battle on Lejima, near Okinawa. Following the attack on Pearl Harbor, firefighters who worked to douse the flames, along with other civilians, were awarded medals, but the practice of giving the Purple Heart to civilians was stopped in 1997.

One Soldier Received Nine Purple Hearts. A Marine Corps sergeant, Albert Luke Ireland, is credited as receiving the highest number of Purple Hearts. He was injured five times while serving in the Pacific Theater during World War II and another four times while serving in the Korean War for a total of nine Purple Hearts. Ireland was a New York native who was also awarded two Bronze Stars and service and campaign medals adorned with eight battle stars.

There Is a Museum Dedicated to Those Who Received the Purple Heart. A museum dedicated to Purple Heart recipients was established through passage of a resolution by Senator Hillary Rodham Clinton in 2002. It is located in New Windsor, New York, close to the spot where George Washington was camped when the badge was established in 1782. The center contains a registry of all of the U.S. combat casualties from military combat from the period of the Revolutionary War to present times.