WASHINGTON (Army News Service, June 11, 2012) -- The Army's top civilian and its top enlisted Soldier kicked off Army birthday week by visiting Mount Vernon, in northern Virginia, and placing a wreath at the tomb of Gen. George Washington and wife Martha, today.

Visitors gathered around while the wreath was placed inside the tomb and Taps was sounded.

Secretary of the Army John McHugh, Sgt. Maj. of the Army Raymond F. Chandler III and Mount Vernon Ladies' Association Regent Ann Bookout, moved to the tomb grove to give remarks followed by the secretary's presentation of three Purple Heart medals to Pfc. Eddie Munoz, Spc. Michael Maynard and Sgt. Darren Downing.

Bookout opened the Purple Heart ceremony saying there was no more appropriate place to begin the celebration of the Army's birthday than at the home of its first commander in chief.

"Not only was George Washington first in war, first in peace and first in the hearts of his countrymen, he was also the first military official to recognize Soldiers who served and sacrificed with what we now call the Purple Heart," she said. "Today, we are honored to welcome here in this sacred place an esteemed group of men and women who share Washington's love of country and commitment to service."

The Purple Heart is awarded to U.S. service members wounded or killed by an enemy of the United States.

Although the Badge of Military Merit that Washington established was discontinued after the American Revolution, it was reintroduced as the Purple Heart on Feb. 22, 1932, the 200th anniversary of Washington's birthday, by then Chief of Staff of the Army Gen. Douglas MacArthur.

"We've been an Army at war for more than 10 years now, and our Soldiers have done an amazing job. Their families have done an amazing job, and without the support of the American people we would not be as successful as we have been on the battlefield," said Chandler. "I can't think of a better way to kick off our Army's 237th birthday week than to recognize three of our finest for their actions in supporting and defending our country."

Before pinning Purple Hearts on Munoz, Maynard and Downing, McHugh took the stage to thank the Mount Vernon Ladies' Association for their hospitality and support during the opening of Army birthday week.

"It's a fitting way to commemorate the Army and the men and women of the United States Army who have since 1775 kept this nation and its people safe from the dark forces of oppression," McHugh said. "America's Army, since the very moment of its inception, has been the greatest institution for good that the world has ever known.

"So let me say this: for all veterans who ever wore the uniform of the United States Army, and those who wear it today and into the future, thank you for your sacrifice, thank you for your service, thank you for keeping us and people who love liberty across this globe, free. Happy Birthday U.S. Army."