Every year on August 7th, the nation pauses to acknowledge and remember the sacrifices made by brave people in the military, by honoring Purple Heart Day.
Often referred to as the military’s oldest medal, the Purple Heart Medal is awarded to U.S. service members who have been wounded or killed in war. As one of the most recognizable combat badges — its bright purple ribbon is hard to miss — this badge isn’t one service members hope to receive. Additionally, this medal is bestowed upon those who are injured, wounded, or died while a prisoner of war (POW).
In honor of Purple Heart Day, here are some facts about the history of the Purple Heart Medal and its recipients.
1. The Purple Heart is the Oldest Military Award Still Presented to American Service Members
According to the National Purple Heart Hall of Honor, more than 1.8 million Purple Heart medals have been presented to service members since the award was created in 1782.
2. One of the First Military Medals Given to all Ranks
The Badge of Military Merit, now known as the Purple Heart, was truly a military medal by the people, of the people. It was one of the first awards in military history that could be given to lower-ranking, enlisted soldiers or non-commissioned officers for their outstanding service.
3. Who Received the First Purple Heart in U.S. History?
During the Revolutionary War, Army soldiers William Brown and Elijah Churchill were the first soldiers to receive the Badge of Military Merit, the predecessor to the Purple Heart.
The first service member to receive the modern-day Purple Heart was Army General Douglas MacArthur for his service during World War II.
4. First Woman to Receive the Purple Heart
Cordelia “Betty” Cook was the first woman to receive the Purple Heart in 1943. While serving as a combat nurse during World War II, she sustained intense wounds while working at a field hospital. Despite her injuries, Cook continued to work and was later commended with the award for her heroic actions and the lives she saved.
5. John F. Kennedy, the Only President with a Purple Heart
Kennedy, who served in the Navy during World War II, injured his back when a Japanese destroyer collided with his torpedo boat near the Solomon Islands. As his boat sank, Kennedy refused to let his injury stop him from towing a badly burned crew member to safety. Kennedy swam with the man’s life jacket strap clenched between his teeth for three miles before reaching an island and bringing the man safely to shore.