With Veteran’s Day just around the corner, let’s take a look at one of the most well-known American military medals: the Purple Heart. This medal dates back to the American Revolution, yet it still remains a high honor to this day.
In 1782, General George Washington issued the order to create the medal-called the Badge of Military Merit-to acknowledge meritorious service of enlisted men, essentially bravery in combat. Only a small handful of soldiers are known to have received the medal. Though the medal was intended to be permanent, history moved on and it was all but forgotten after the Revolution.
It wasn’t until 1932, on the bicentennial of Washington’s birth, that the Purple Heart was revived by General Douglas MacArthur. Though the award was originally designed to commemorate bravery, the Purple Heart came to recognize wounded soldiers during World War II. Later on, the medal criteria were extended to include additional branches of the military and posthumous awards of the Purple Heart.
Presently, it’s estimated that the military has awarded about 1.7 million Purple Hearts to soldiers, Marines, sailors, and airmen. The Purple Heart is awarded in the name of the US president to any member of the US Armed Forces who, while serving in any capacity, has been wounded, killed, or has died as a result of being wounded.
As one of the oldest medals in American military history, the Purple Heart has come to be quite recognizable. A gold-rimmed heart medallion hangs from a purple and white ribbon. Centered in the heart is a purple enamel base with a portrait of Washington. Above his effigy rests his family’s coat of arms in red and white. On the reverse of the medal, “FOR MILITARY MERIT” is inscribed.
While gold in color, the Purple Heart does not actually contain real gold. Rather, it’s made of a gilding metal. The copper alloy is comprised of copper and zinc, technically making it a form of brass.
The value of the metals used in the manufacture of Purple Hearts is not high. Rather, the value of these medals lies in what they stand for. A person awarded with a Purple Heart is recognized as brave, loyal, and a hero of the American people. While several other military medals are made with more valuable types of metals, the Purple Heart has become a symbol of the valiant.
What other treasured items can you think of that hold more symbolic value than monetary value?