PURPLE HEART DAY
Purple Heart Day, on August 7th, commemorates the creation of the oldest American military decoration for military merit. The Purple Heart honors the men and women who are of the Military Order of the Purple Heart. During the American Revolutionary War, the Badge for Military Merit decorated six known soldiers.
General George Washington created the Badge of Merit in 1782. Washington intended the honor to be presented to soldiers for “any singularly meritorious action.” Its design included a purple, heart-shaped piece of silk bound with a thin edge of silver. Across the face, the word Merit was embroidered in silver. While the badge symbolized the courage and devotion of an American Patriot, no one knows who designed the award.
Until Washington’s 200th birthday, the Purple Heart persisted as a Revolutionary War footnote. Through the efforts of General Douglas MacArthur, the U.S. War Department created the Order of the Purple Heart. Today the medal bears a bust of George Washington and his coat of arms.
While an accurate and complete list of names no longer exists, National Geographic recently estimated that nearly 1.9 million service members have earned Purple Hearts since its creation. It is the oldest U.S. military honor still bestowed upon service members today. Until 1944, the Purple Heart recognized service members’ commendable actions as well. Then in 1944, the requirements limited the award to only those wounded or killed in combat.
Purple Heart Firsts
- The Badge of Military Merit replaced the Fidelity Medallion. At the time, William Brown and Elijah Churchill received the first honors with the Badge of Military Merit during the Revolutionary War.
- Army General Douglas MacArthur received the first modern-day Purple Heart.
- The first woman receives a Purple Heart. Following her actions during the attack on Pearl Harbor, Army Lt. Annie G. Fox received the Purple Heart during World War II.
HOW TO OBSERVE #PurpleHeartDay
Purple Heart Day encourages us to honor everyone who has received a Purple Heart. We can also learn more about the Military Order of the Purple Heart.
While celebrating the heroes who earned the honor, learn more about them.
- Read For Military Merit: Recipients of the Purple Heart by Fred L. Borch or Purple Heart by Patricia McCormick.
- Watch a documentary. We recommend Purple Heart Warriors: Tears of a Warrior by Tony Seahorn.
- Visit a military museum. The National Purple Heart Hall of Honor or The National WWII Museum both offer in-depth history on the Purple Heart.
Another way to celebrate is by sharing your discoveries. You can also recognize someone who has received a Purple Heart. Express why you think it’s important to celebrate Purple Heart Day. When you do, use #PurpleHeartDay to post on social media.
PURPLE HEART DAY HISTORY
Since 1932, Americans have celebrated Purple Heart Day on both Washington’s birthday and Valentine’s Day. Some states and cities observed the day in their own way at different times throughout the year. Each declaration encouraged citizens to support wounded veterans with the purchase of a purple viola.
No matter when the observance occurred, it recognized the men and women killed and wounded in combat and their heroic actions. As the day evolved, it more commonly was observed on the day of the Purple Heart’s creation, August 7, 1782.
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August 7th Celebrated (and Not So Celebrated) History
The first U.S. Congress created the United States Lighthouse Establishment bringing all lighthouses under the responsibility of the federal government. It was the first public works law passed.
An election day battle between the Hatfields and McCoys leads to the death of Ellison McCoy.
Theophilus Van Kannel patents the first successful revolving door. He would later sell his business, Van Kannel Revolving Door Co., to International Steel. Today, Kannel’s original invention lives on through revolving doors made by International Revolving Door Co.
Howard Hughes receives the Congressional Gold Medal from Congress. The eccentric billionaire, aviator, and entrepreneur never appeared to receive the medal, however. The Congressional Gold Medal along with the Presidental Medal of Freedom are the two highest honors a civilian can receive in the United States.
Legislation passed approving a Booker T. Washington memorial silver half dollar. The former slave advised presidents and established the Tuskegee Normal and Industrial Institute.
American, Alice Coachman earns gold at the London Olympics in the high jump. Her achievement made her the first Black woman to ever win Olympic gold.
Congress passes the Civil Rights Act of 1957. The limited legislation was the first of its kind in the 20th century. It primarily focused on voting and juries and established the Commission on Civil Rights.
NASA launches Explorer 6 into orbit around the Earth. Equipped with photography technology, the satellite sent back the first photos of Earth.
Arnold Palmer earns his 20th PGA Tour win of his career. That year, he would go on to win one more at the Mobile Sertoma Open Invitational.
The Baseball Hall of Fame admits Yogi Berra. As an icon of baseball, Berra was known for his turns of phrase. Some examples include:
- “No one goes there nowadays, it’s too crowded”
- “A nickel ain’t worth a dime anymore”
- “It gets late early out here.”
Others inducted to the Hall of Fame that year were Sandy Koufax, Early Wynn, Lefty Gomez, Ross Youngs, Will Harridge, Buck Leonard and Josh Gibson.
Operation Desert Shield begins when military assistance was ordered to Kuwait’s defense during the early days of the Gulf War.
Louisiana State University’s 7’1″ center, Shaquille O’Neal signs with the Orlando Magic as a first draft pick.
Ada Deer is sworn in as the Assistant Secretary of the Interior and the first woman to hold the position of head of the Bureau of Indian Affairs. The day of her swearing-in was also her birthday.
Greg Maddox joins the 300 Win Club when he pitches his 300th career game win. The Cubs won against the Giants.
A veteran of 20 seasons with the NFL, Jerry Rice is elected to the Pro Football Hall of Fame. Others in the 2010 class included Emmitt Smith, John Randle, Russ Grim, Rickey Jackson, Dick LeBeau and Floyd Little.
August 7th Celebrated (and Not So Celebrated) Birthdays
Mata Hari – 1876
Born Margaretha Geertruida Zelle, she accepted the role of spy for France during World War I. However, she was later accused of being a double agent for Germany. France executed her on October 15, 1917.
Billie Burke – 1884
The actress is best known today for her role as Glinda the Good Witch in the technicolor film Wizard of Oz.
Herb Reed – 1928
As a founding member of the vocal group The Platters, Reed was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 1990.
Abebe Bikila – 1932
The Olympic marathon runner won his first gold running barefoot.
Robert Mueller – 1944
Mueller began serving as the Director of the Federal Bureau of Investigation in 2001 after President Bush’s nomination. He served until 2019.
Alan Page – 1945
After 15 years as a defensive tackle in the NFL, Page began a career in law that culminated in his election as Associate Justice of the Minnesota Supreme Court.
Charlize Theron – 1975
Academy Award-winning actress, Charlize Theron has starred in Snow White and the Huntsman, Monster, Hancock, the Astronaut’s Wife and more.