Five things you might not know about the Purple Heart

By Brian Hill, Fort Leonard Wood Public Affairs OfficeAugust 5, 2021


FORT LEONARD WOOD, Mo. — August 7 is Purple Heart Day, which commemorates men and women who wounded or killed by an opposing armed forces during military service.

At Fort Leonard Wood, more than 70 current Soldiers and countless other service members, prior-service Defense Department civilians and military retirees in the community are Purple Heart recipients.

It seems many people know how it’s earned and that it is the oldest military award still given to service members, but here are a few more pieces of information that are perhaps less well known.

George Washington
Badge of Military Merit
Badge of Merit, the Purple Heart is America’s oldest military award. (Photo Credit: U.S. Army) VIEW ORIGINAL

The profile on the front of the Purple Heart is Gen. George Washington, who established the Badge of Military Merit — the precursor to the Purple Heart — in 1782, when he was commander-in-chief of the Continental Army. The Badge of Military Merit was awarded to three Revolutionary War Soldiers by Washington himself, and although never abolished, it was not proposed again officially until after World War I. The modern Purple Heart was first issued on the bicentennial of Washington's birthday by War Department General Order No. 3, dated February 22, 1932 — Gen. Douglas MacArthur, Army chief of staff at the time, received the first Purple Heart.

Ten Purple Hearts
Army Pfc. Charles Barger.
Army Pfc. Charles Barger. (Photo Credit: Army photo courtesy of Joseph Grokett) VIEW ORIGINAL

While many service members have received multiple Purple Hearts, only three people have received 10 of them. Charles Barger, who was born and raised in Missouri, was assigned to the 354th Infantry Regiment, 89th Division in France during World War I. In addition to his Purple Hearts, he was awarded the Medal of Honor by Gen. John Pershing. William White served 11 years in the Marine Corps before joining the Army in 1941. He received nine Purple Hearts while serving in Europe in World War II and one while serving in the Korean War. Curry Haynes received his 10 Purple Hearts for wounds he received while serving in the Army in 1967 and 1968, in Vietnam.

One U.S. president
United States Navy Reserve Lieutenant John F. Kennedy
United States Navy Reserve Lieutenant John F. Kennedy (Photo Credit: National Archives) VIEW ORIGINAL

Navy veteran John Kennedy is the only U.S. president to have received a Purple Heart, after he sustained a back injury when a Japanese destroyer sunk his patrol torpedo boat near the Solomon Islands during World War II. Incidentally, his brother, Joseph, also received a Purple Heart posthumously for his service in World War II. While Kennedy is the only president to receive a Purple Heart, both Roosevelts — presidents Franklin Delano and Theodore — had sons who received Purple Hearts.

Non-human awardees
Sergeant Stubby's jacket on display, featuring his Purple Heart, among other decorations.
Sergeant Stubby's jacket on display, featuring his Purple Heart, among other decorations. (Photo Credit: The Smithsonian Institute) VIEW ORIGINAL

Two dogs — Chips and Sergeant Stubby — each received Purple Hearts for wounds they received in World War II. During the Korean War, a horse named Sergeant Reckless was awarded two Purple Hearts. Award criteria no longer allows for service animals to receive the same medals earned by human service members, but they can still earn prestigious non-profit animal organization awards. The Dickin Medal, for example, is presented by a British animal welfare organization called the People’s Dispensary for Sick Animals. It is considered the equivalent of the Victoria Cross — the highest award in Great Britain — for animals. Lucca, a Marine Corps military working dog who completed more than 400 missions while serving in Afghanistan, is a Dickin Medal recipient.

Other Purple Heart awards

Some U.S. states and law enforcement agencies have their own versions of the Purple Heart. Texas has the Star of Texas Award, given to peace officers, firefighters and emergency first responders who are killed or suffer serious injury in the line of duty. Iowa has a Law Enforcement Purple Heart Medal for law enforcement officers who have been seriously wounded or killed in the line of duty as a result of a combat incident. The Drug Enforcement Agency’s Purple Heart Award is given to individuals who lost their lives or were seriously injured enforcing the drug laws of the United States.