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The Purple Heart: A Sign of Great Sacrifice
by Tanya Smith - February 9, 2012

The Purple HeartFew military awards carry as much honor . . . and emotion . . . then the Purple Heart. This military decoration is awarded by the President of the United States to those wounded or killed while serving in the U.S. Military on or after April 5, 1917. It is the oldest award given to military personnel.

Award Criteria

Some specific reasons for awarding the Purple Heart include injury or death as the result of:

  • Any action against an enemy of the U.S.
  • 3Opposing an armed force of a foreign country which is or has been engaged against the U.S. military.
  • Service with friendly foreign forces in a situation where the U.S. is not a belligerent party.
  • An act of any enemy opposing U.S. armed forces.
  • An act of any hostile foreign force.

The Purple Heart stands out from all other military awards in a particular way: a person is not “recommended” for this decoration but is entitled to it upon meeting specific criteria such as that listed above. However, each award situation is reviewed to be sure that the injury or death was caused directly by enemy action. The award is given for the first wound suffered, with an oak leaf cluster given for subsequent awards.

It's specifically stated that not more than one Purple Heart will be given for injuries received simultaneously. A “wound” is considered injury to any part of the body sustained in the conditions above that required treatment by a medical officer and that is documented in an official record.

Injuries that justify receiving a Purple Heart include those caused by enemy bullets, shrapnel, land mines, naval mines or traps. It can also be given due to injury from chemical, biological or nuclear agents as well as vehicle or aircraft accidents and enemy-generated explosions. In specific situations, the Purple Heart can be awarded immediately to wounded soldiers on the field of battle and it can also be given posthumously.

Many Have Sacrificed

Starting with World War I about 2 million Purple Heart awards have been presented, the largest number (1,076,245) given to those who served in World War II. About 35,000 Purple Hearts have been awarded to those serving in Iraq and approximately 7,000 to military personnel in Afghanistan.

A Civilian Counterpart

Contractors working alongside military personnel who are injured or killed as the result of enemy actions are not eligible for the Purple Heart. However, companies such as DynCorp, Raytheon, and Hewlett-Packard often have their own special awards for these employees. One contractor, for example, has a Chairman's Purple Award that is given with as much honor and gratitude as the Purple Heart.

While all of our military and civilian personnel deserve gratitude, those receiving the Purple Heart or its civilian equivalent have given more of themselves in the performance of duty . . . often making the ultimate sacrifice.

By Tanya Smith
Copyright 2012

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