Revolutionary War Historical Article

Washington's Purple Heart

By Audel H. Hicks

Editor's Note: This article was reprinted from the May 1988 Edition of the Valley Compatriot Newsletter


On February 22, 1932, Compatriot/General Douglas MacArthur, Army Chief of Staff, issued the following General Orders: "Purple Heart - - By order of the President of the United States, the Purple Heart, established by General George Washington at Newburgh, August 7th, 1782, during the War of the Revolution, is hereby revived out of respect of his memory and military achievements."

And so General George Washington had when he directed, " . . . . . .that whenever any singular meritorious action is performed, the author of it shall be permitted to wear on his facings over his left breast, the figure of a heart in purple cloth or silk .........the road to Glory in a patriot army and a free country is then open to all." This order is to be considered as a "permanent one." But it wasn't permanent!

During the War of the American Revolution, General George Washington devised two "badges" of distinction to be worn by enlisted men and officers - - a chevron and a badge. The chevron was a service stripe and came to be known today as the "hash mark." The service stripe was to be worn on the left sleeve of the coat as a symbol of loyal military service. Three years for service with "bravery, fidelity and good conduct" were the criteria for earning the chevron. The second was a Badge of Military Merit. It was designed to be of purple cloth or silk in the form of a heart edged with narrow lace or binding. The recipients' names were to be inscribed in a Book of Merit.

 

General Washington awarded his Badge of Military Merit three times only! Two of those badges exist today -- - one in Washington, D.C. at the Society of Cincinnati's Anderson House and the other at the New Windsor Cantonment, New York, All other records, references and physical evidence relating to the Badges during the Revolutionary War have long vanished.

After the Revolution and through World War One, the badge lay in disuse and was not awarded, contrary to General Washington's orders, although private efforts from time to time had been made to reactivate it. As the Bicentennial of the birth of Washington was drawing near, Army Chief of Staff, General Charles P. Summerall
drafted a bill in 1927 for Congress to revive it. The bill floundered so the Army withdrew it in 1928 but prepared to do battle at a later date. That date came when Douglas MacArthur succeeded General Summerall!

Initially Miss Elizabeth Will of the Army Office of the Quartermaster created a design for the new badge which would thereafter be called the "Purple Heart". John R. Sinnock, Chief Engraver of the United States Mint in Philadelphia, was commissioned to refine the design and mold a plaster model in May of 1931.

In 1926 Sinnock had designed a half dollar coin which commemorated the
Sesquicentennial of American Independence. For the first time a living President, Calvin Coolidge, was depicted on a coin. On the obverse side Sinnock placed George Washington in the forefront and Coolidge behind. On the reverse was an accurate model of our famous Liberty Bell! Later John Sinnock created the Roosevelt dime and the Benjamin Franklin half dollar. When redesigning Miss Will's creation he replaced a leaf in the center of the medal with the profile of George Washington.

On February 22nd 1932, General Douglas MacArthur was ready and introduced his
newly reinstated Badge of Military Merit - "The Purple Heart." At the same time, he issued guidelines to the Army defining the conditions under which the award would be made : "[For] a wound which necessitates treatment by a medical officer and which is received in action with an enemy, [and] may in the judgment of the commander authorized to make the award be construed as resulting from a singularly meritorious act of essential service."

 

On the reverse side of the
Medal Sinnock put: "FOR MILITARY
MERIT"
!

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