How did Douglas MacArthur earn his medals

8 things you need to know about the purple heart medal

By Danielle DeSimone

On August 7th, Purple Heart Day, the nation pauses to pay tribute to the sacrifices and to remember the brave people in the military.

The Purple Heart Medal is awarded to service members who have been wounded or killed by hostile acts while serving in the U.S. military. A Purple Heart is a ceremonial award and signifies that a member of the military has made a great sacrifice or paid the ultimate price while doing his or her duty.

According to the National Purple Heart Hall of Honor, more than 1.8 million Purple Heart medals have been awarded to members of the military since the award was created in 1782.

In honor of Purple Heart Day, here are eight facts about the history of the Purple Heart Medal and its recipients:

The Purple Heart is the oldest military award still given to American military personnel

The first predecessor of the Purple Heart, the Fidelity Medallion, was launched by the Continental Congress in 1780, but was only awarded to three soldiers that year.

Two years later, in 1782, President George Washington created the Badge of Military Merit. Since the Fidelity Medallion was never awarded again, it is generally considered a memorabilia, and the Badge of Military Merit is instead considered the first US military award and the predecessor to the Purple Heart.

According to Washington, who designed the Badge of Military Merit in the shape of a purple cloth heart, the Badge of Military Merit was to be awarded to soldiers who “have shown not only examples of unusual bravery in combat, but also exceptional loyalty and indispensable service in some way . "

The Badge of Military Merit was later evolved into what we know today as the Purple Heart, which is still awarded to qualified US soldiers today.

General George Washington presented the Badge of Military Merit in Newburgh, New York, in 1783. Army Center of Military History

One of the first military medals awarded to all ranks

In the years prior to 1782, when the Purple Heart's predecessor, the Badge of Military Merit, was first created, most military awards were given only to officers who had achieved great victories in combat.

The Badge of Military Merit, now known as the Purple Heart, was truly a military medal of the people, of the people: It was one of the first awards in military history that could be bestowed on lower-ranking soldiers or non-commissioned officers for their outstanding service.

Today U.

Today US soldiers of all ranks wounded or killed in enemy action are qualified to receive a Purple Heart Medal.

Today's Purple Heart Medal and Eligibility

Thanks to Army General Douglas MacArthur, the Purple Heart officially got its modern look and name in 1932.

MacArthur, who wanted to refresh and rename the award in time for George Washington's bicentennial birthday, worked with the Washington Commission of Fine Arts and Elizabeth Will, a heraldry specialist in the Army's Office of the Quartermaster General, to design the medal .

The revived Purple Heart Medal, which shows the likeness of George Washington, was primarily intended as a combat award only for the Army or Army Air Corps and honored meritorious deeds and soldiers wounded or killed in combat. At the time, the Purple Heart could not be awarded posthumously or to the recipient's family.

A few years later, in 1942, President Roosevelt and the Department of War further defined qualifications for receiving the Purple Heart, designating it for those wounded or killed in action. In addition, eligibility to receive the award has been expanded to include all branches of the military, and permission has been given to award the Purple Heart Medal posthumously.

In the years since then, the qualifications that determine who is eligible for the Purple Heart award have changed again and again and are still developing today.

General Douglas MacArthur (center, seated) observes the Battle of Inchon in the Korean War in 1950.

Who Received the First Purple Heart in US History?

During the Revolutionary War, soldiers William Brown and Elijah Churchill were the first soldiers to receive the Badge of Military Merit, the predecessor of the Purple Heart. Brown most likely received the award for service during the siege of Yorktown, while Churchill was recognized for his bravery in a battle near Fort St. George on Long Island.

The first soldier to receive the modern Purple Heart was Army General Douglas MacArthur for his service in the Pacific (specifically the Philippines) during World War II.

Famous Purple Heart Recipient

While every Purple Heart recipient deserves widespread recognition, a handful of honorees stand out as household names, such as the legendary Lewis Burwell "Chesty" Puller.

Other famous Purple Heart recipients include actors (like James Arness, Charles Bronson, James Garner, Rod Serling), writers (Kurt Vonnegut, Oliver Stone), athletes (Warren Spahn, Pat Tillman, Rocky Bleier, and even animals like Sergeant Stubby the dog and Sergeant Reckless the horse.

U.S. Army First Lieutenant Cordelia "Betty" Cook, the first woman to receive both the Purple Heart Medal and the Bronze Star Medal, tends to a wounded soldier in Italy in 1943; her bandaged shrapnel wound is clearly visible.

Two women, one first

In 1942 Army Lt. Annie G. Fox became the first woman to receive a Purple Heart for her heroic service during the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor in 1941. Fox, who served as head nurse at Hickam Field, Hawaii, remained calm and directed hospital staff during the attack on Pearl Harbor and her hospital successfully took care of the wounded who came out of the port.

While she wasn't the first woman to receive the Purple Heart, Cordelia "Betty" Cook was the first woman to receive both the Purple Heart and Bronze Star. In 1943, Cook, who served as a nurse during World War II, suffered shrapnel wounds while working in a field hospital on the Italian front. Despite her injuries, Cook continued to work and was later rewarded with both awards for her heroic deeds.

John F. Kennedy, the only President with a Purple Heart

United States Navy Reserve Lieutenant John F. Kennedy | Photo by United States National Archives and Records Administration

President John F. Kennedy is the only US President with a Purple Heart.

Kennedy, who served in the Navy during World War II, was injured in his back when a Japanese destroyer collided with his patrol torpedo boat near the Solomon Islands. When his boat sank, Kennedy didn't let his injury stop him from dragging a severely burned crew member to safety. Kennedy swam three miles with the man's lifejacket strap between his teeth before he reached an island and brought the man safely to shore.

Kennedy was also awarded the Navy and Marine Corps Medal for his accomplishments.

How many Purple Hearts can you get? Who has the most Purple Hearts?

Soldiers can receive multiple Purple Hearts throughout their military career.

Curry T. Haynes currently holds the record for the largest number of Purple Hearts awarded to a single soldier.

Haynes, who served in the Army during the Vietnam War, received his first Purple Heart after being shot in the arm in a jungle ambush. After an operation in Japan, he returned to the front, where he would later be awarded nine more Purple Hearts for his actions. During an attack - which involved dodging multiple grenades - Haynes sustained a number of injuries, including the loss of two fingers.

He was later given nine Purple Hearts - one for each wound - and died of cancer in July 2017.

This story was first published on in 2018. It was updated in 2020.