How many Purple Hearts are there?
1.8 million Purple Hearts. At this time, it estimated that there may have been 1.8 million Purple Hearts awarded. The award was first retroactive to those who received “wound chevrons” and “certificates of merit” during World War I as well as to those from earlier wars who chose to apply for the award.
Aug. 7, 1782: George Washington issues order to create the Badge of Military Merit to recognize meritorious action. Only a handful of soldiers are known to have received it.
Feb. 22, 1932: Gen. Douglas MacArthur revives the Purple Heart on the bicentennial of Washington’s birthday. The medal is primarily designed to recognize meritorious service. The Purple Heart is also given to soldiers wounded or killed in battle. MacArthur is given Purple Heart No. 1.
Apr. 28, 1942: Military allows posthumous award of Purple Heart after heavy loss of life at Pearl Harbor.
Sept. 4, 1942: War Department designates the Purple Heart exclusively for wounds or deaths in combat.
Aug. 2, 1943: John F. Kennedy was wounded in action that resulted in a Purple Heart. He is the only U.S. president to have received the honor.
Aug. 15, 1944: Maj. Gen. Robert T. Frederick is awarded his eighth Purple Heart. That is believed to be the record for any soldier in a single conflict.
1950s: Controversy over award of Purple Heart for frostbite. Soldiers and sailors were not given the medal for frostbite, while aviators awarded it. Eventually, the military ruled out frostbite as an eligible injury
April 1983: War correspondent Ernie Pyle was awarded the Purple Heart. Civilians are no longer given the Purple Heart. Pyle, who wrote for the Scripps Howard news service, was killed in April 1945.
Feb. 23, 1984: Ronald Reagan signs an executive order allowing the Purple Heart to be issued for injuries suffered as a result of terrorism.
Dec. 20, 1989: A U.S. soldier suffers heat stroke during an invasion in Panama and is awarded Purple Heart. The outcry from veterans groups leads the Army to exclude heat stroke as eligible injury.
1996: Regulations are amended to allow prisoners of war to receive the Purple Heart.
Most Awarded Purple Hearts
The U.S. service members who were awarded the most Purple Hearts during World War II were U.S. Army Officer Robert T. Frederick, with eight, and Albert L. Ireland, who earned five during World War II and four in the Korean War.
May 2008: Brig. Gen. Joseph Caravalho issues a policy which suggests that “minimum medical treatment” is necessary to award the Purple Heart to soldiers with mild traumatic brain injury. Such language is not part of official Army regulations.
That same month, an Army psychologist suggests that the Purple Heart be awarded to soldiers suffering from post traumatic stress disorder, or PTSD. A Pentagon panel later nixes the idea, declaring that PTSD is a “secondary effect” to enemy action which wounds a soldier.
Jan. 2009: Recognize the Sacrifice, a website, is founded to help soldiers with mild traumatic brain injury apply for the Purple Heart.
- Military Order of the Purple Heart
- Recognize the Sacrifice
- For Military Merit: Recipients of the Purple Heart, by Fred L. Borch, 2010.
- The Legacy of the Purple Heart, edited by Gardner Hatch, 1987.