The Purple Heart is one of the oldest medals of America. It was originally created by George Washington as the Badge of Military Merit on August 7, 1782, during the Revolutionary War. While Douglas MacArthur promoted the change of name and design in 1932, the continuous history of these military ribbons and medals makes Purple Hearts the oldest continuously given military medals in the U.S. In addition to the silhouette of George Washington, these US military medals now also feature General Washington’s family crest. The Purple Heart is awarded in the name of the President, to U.S. Service persons who have been wounded or killed in the service of their country.
There have been many changes to the eligibility requirements for receiving the Purple Heart over the decades. At different times it was awarded for meritorious service, to Service Secretaries, to civilians, and for wounds from friendly fire. Currently Purple Hearts are awarded to any member of the Armed Forces of the United States who, while serving under competent authority in any capacity with one of the U.S. Armed Services after April 5, 1917, has been wounded or killed, or who has died after being wounded. Commanders approve the award based on the wound having been received while engaged in direct or indirect combat operations, and the degree to which the enemy caused the injury. However, the Purple Heart is deserved by virtue of having received the wound under the specified conditions, and does not require the recommendation of a commanding officer to be awarded. A Purple Heart may be issued posthumously to a veteran's next of kin. Issue will be made automatically by the Commanding General, PERSCOM, upon receiving a report of death indicating entitlement. It is estimated that there have been over a million of these military medals awarded since their original inception.
In September of 2001, civilian awards of the Purple Heart ceased to be made. Now, non-military personnel are awarded the Defense of Freedom Medal if killed or wounded as a result of hostile action.
An amendment to the 1985 Defense Authorization Bill changed the order of precedence for the Purple Heart. It now is worn just below the Bronze Star, and just above the Meritorious Service Medals in the general order of precedence that has been established by all branches of service. Subsequent awards of these military medals are denoted in the Navy, Marine Crops, and Coast Guard by Award Stars; and in the Army and Air Force by Oak Leaf Clusters.
David H. Hackworth may be the most decorated serviceman ever with eight Purple Hearts, two Distinguished Service Crosses and ten Silver Stars.
The Purple Heart can be worn as traditional full size military medals and mini medals, military ribbons and lapel pins. These military decorations are available as traditional slide-on, full size military medals or mini-medals, and slide-on military ribbons; or the newer thin mini-medals, and ultra thin military ribbons that have become so very popular among up and coming military personnel who know how important it is to their career advancement to always maximize the neatness and smartness of their uniform appearance.