A number of Purple Hearts are on display throughout the Armed Forces History Museum.  The Purple Hearts represent so much more than a single meritorious action.  Read the stories and feel the emotion behind the courageous act of each of these men.  Realization begins to set in as to the significance of all those who have ventured selflessly, bravely directly into the face of the enemy to valiantly fight for the country they so proudly represent.  


About the Purple Heart

One of the highest military honors in the US military, the Purple Heart is awarded to those who have either been wounded or killed (it is then given posthumously) while in the US military service.  The Purple Heart was first created by George Washington in 1782, at which time the award was known as the Badge of Military Merit.  To those who received this honor, along with the badge, their names were inscribed in a “Book of Merit”.


The original Badge of Military Merit consisted of a purple, heart-shaped piece of silk with the word “Merit” embroidered in silver on its facing.  During the Revolutionary War, George Washington issued this prestigious award to only three men:  Elijah Churchill, William Brown and Daniel Bissell, Jr.


In time, the Book of Merit was lost and the Badge of Military Merit was, for the most part, forgotten.  In 1927, Charles P. Summerall, a US Army General and chief of staff, was unsuccessful in his attempt to revive the award.  Four years later, General Douglas MacArthur successfully took on the task to correlate the revival of the award with Washington’s 200th birthday.


Criteria for the Purple Heart Award

Anyone in US military service after 4/5/1917, and meets additional criteria, is capable of receiving this award.  The Purple Heart is not given because of a recommendation; it is an honor which is earned.  A number of scenarios qualify a member of the US military to receive the Purple Heart:


  • Action against any enemy of the US
  • Participating in action with an opposing foreign armed force in which the US military is (or has been) engaged
  • Service with any friendly foreign force – engaged in an armed conflict against another opposing armed force
  • The direct result of any hostile act from a foreign force
  • All wound must have required medical treatment and all documentation regarding such wound must be noted as an official record and must be the direct result of enemy action


Two additional circumstances were added March 28, 1973:


  • Involvement in an international terrorist attack against the US
  • Involvement in an international terrorist attack against a foreign nation friendly to the US
  • Involvement in military operations while serving outside US territory in peacekeeping efforts


Should a recipient of the Purple Heart become wounded or killed on an additional qualifying occasion, they receive an oak leaf cluster.