By Samantha L. QuigleyAugust 8, 2007
WASHINGTON (Army News Service, Aug. 8, 2007) - When Gen. George Washington created the Purple Heart Medal in 1872, he probably never envisioned it would be so huge. Literally.
Artist Roger Baker mowed a 1,000-foot long rendition of the medal, covering 850,000 square feet, into a field at Thomas Bull Memorial Park in Hamtonburgh, N.Y., near the town where the first awards were presented to Revolutionary War Soldiers. Mr. Baker said his creation is a "gift of art" to the American public.
The artwork was unveiled Aug. 5, two days before the medal's 75th anniversary. The park is in the same county as The National Purple Heart Hall of Honor, near where the medal was initially established.
"I've never dealt with the emotions involved with loss and tragedy associated with war," Mr. Baker said. "This forced me to think about it, and I couldn't stop thinking about it, and it brought up some feelings and I had to pursue those feelings."
Mr. Baker said the project happened after a chance meeting with a Military Order of the Purple Heart official. A quick series of local meetings with officials of The National Purple Heart Hall of Honor and the Orange County Commission of Parks, Recreation and Conservation, and it was a done deal.
The gently sloping field - a mixture of grass and purple clover, which lends the design it signature color - will last for another six to 10 days without any touch-ups, Mr. Baker said. His hope is he will be allowed to maintain the artwork until Veterans Day.
"Because of the nature of what it is and what it stands for, (we'd like) to allow as many people as possible - the American public, veterans - to be able to come out and experience it," he said. "If we get the green light to keep this maintained up until Veterans Day, that means by that time ... the first-frost picture of it will be unbelievable.
"Then we wait for the first light snow," he added. "The snow lands on the low-cut areas. It disappears on the high-cut areas ... (making) it look like it was etched into alabaster."
Mr. Baker's field-art portraiture, which ranges from 500,000 to 1 million-square feet, has been featured on CNN and NBC's "Today Show," and in the New York Times. He has mowed likenesses of the Statue of Liberty, Elvis Presley, Albert Einstein and Jimi Hendrix into fields.
Gen. Washington established the "Badge of Military Merit," as the Purple Heart Medal was originally known, in a nearby New York town on Aug. 7, 1782. It was awarded to three Soldiers during the Revolutionary War before falling into disuse.
Its use wasn't again proposed until World War I, when then-Army Chief of Staff Gen. Charles Pelot Summerall requested Congress revive the medal. That movement died in 1928, but three years later, his successor, Gen. Douglas MacArthur, quietly requested the medal's design be retooled.
On the observance of George Washington's 200th birthday, under general orders of the War Department, the medal was revived with a new design and a new name. However, it still was thought of as an Army decoration; it wasn't until 1942 that President Franklin D. Roosevelt extended the medal to those serving in other services who were wounded in the Dec. 7, 1941, attack on Pearl Harbor.
In 1952, President Harry S. Truman carried that action a step further, retroactively granting the medal to any qualified servicemember back to April 5, 1917.
(Samantha L. Quigley writes for the American Forces Press Service.)