August 7, 1782 George Washington created the purple heart in Newburgh, New York. The commander in chief of the Continental Army created the “Badge of Military Merit” out of purple silk in the shape of a heart. He awarded only three known soldiers during the Revolution, Elijah Churchill, William Brown, and Daniel Bissell, Jr..
The record “Book of Merit” was lost and the decorated honor forgotten about until 1927, when US Army chief of staff General Charles P. Summerall drafted a bill to congress named “revive the Badge of Merit” – it never passed.
In 1931 Summerall’s successor, General Douglas MacArthur involved the Washington Commission of Fine Arts and together reopened the cause and redrafted a second bill to congress urging them to pass in time to commemorate the bicentennial birth of George Washington.
The honor to design the Purple Heart was awarded to Elizabeth Will, an Army heraldic specialist in the Office of the Quartermaster General. She received specific general directions and sketched a bust of George Washington on the purple heart shaped medal. Sculptor, John R. Sinnock of Philadelphia Mint, created a plaster mold from the sketch in May of 1931. On the reverse side in a raised bronze heart are the words MILITARY MERIT.
On February 22,1932, the US War Department announced the creation of the “Order of the Purple Heart.” By Executive Order of the President of the United States and by the War Department General Orders No. 3, George Washington was honored out of respect to his memory and for military achievements.
The Purple Heart is the oldest American decoration awarded for military merit to any and all US armed forces who are wounded or killed during combat.
Author’s Note: As an author of American History I would like to honor the 30 military personnel who were shot down during a mission in Afghanistan as reported on Friday August 5,2011 with my virtual Purple Heart. My thoughts and prayers go out to the family and friends of our honored heroes.
Teresa L. Watts