The purple heart is awarded to members of the Armed Forces of the United States or any civilian of the United States who, while serving in any capacity with one of the U.S. Armed Forces, has been wounded, killed, or who has died or may die of wounds received from an enemy while in combat or as a result of an act of international terrorism or being a Prisoner of War.
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Purple Heart Medal (Coast Guard, Marine Corps, Navy)
The Purple Heart Medal is America’s oldest military decoration. It was originally established on August 7, 1782 by General George Washington who designed the original award called the “Badge of Military Merit.” The Badge of Military Merit was awarded for singularly meritorious action to a deserving hero of the Revolutionary War. There were only three recipients of the award, all of whom were non-commissioned officers of the Continental Army. The Badge of Military Merit was intended by Washington to be a permanent decoration, but was never used again after the three initial presentations until it was reestablished as the Purple Heart Medal on February 22, 1932 (the 200th anniversary of Washington’s birth) by the Army War Department.
During the First World War, War Department General Order No.134 of October 12, 1917 authorized a red ribbon with a narrow white center stripe to be worn on the right breast for wounds received in action. However, the order was rescinded 32 days later and the ribbon never became a reality. Instead, the Army authorized wound chevrons which were worn on the lower right sleeve of the tunic.
On July 21, 1932, General Douglas MacArthur, who was a key figure in its revival, received the first Purple Heart Medal after it was reestablished. President Franklin D. Roosevelt signed an executive order on December 3, 1942 that expanded the award to members of the Navy, Marine Corps and Coast Guard as well. Although the Purple Heart Medal was awarded for meritorious service between 1932 and 1943, the primary purpose of the award has always been to recognize those who received wounds while in the service of the United States military.
Later, Presidential Executive Orders extended eligibility for the Purple Heart Medal to military and civilian personnel who received wounds from a terrorist attack or while performing peace keeping duties. Currently, it is awarded for wounds received while serving in any capacity with one of the U.S. Armed Forces after April 5, 1917; it may be awarded to civilians as well as military personnel. The wounds may have been received while in combat against an enemy, while a member of a peacekeeping force, while a Prisoner of War, as a result of a terrorist attack or as a result of a friendly fire incident in hostile territory. The 1996 Defense Authorization Act extended eligibility for the Purple Heart to prisoners of war before April 25, 1962; previous legislation had only authorized the medal to POWs after April 25, 1962. Wounds that qualify must have required treatment by a medical officer and must be a matter of official record.