Along with 1.7 million other service members, my grandfather YC Parris from Jacksonville, Ala, earned a Purple Heart. A few days after the Utah Beach Landing on D-Day, my grandfather was wounded while serving with the 22nd Infantry Regiment, Fourth Infantry Division. He subsequently returned to his unit and served an additional year and a half, receiving the Bronze Star when he was discharged.
He is just one of the approximately 1,8 million people who have been awarded this prestigious symbol of service and sacrifice over self. But what are the origins of Purple Heart Day, and why is it celebrated?
Why a Purple Heart?
In the 1780s, the final years of the long 8-year Revolutionary War, George Washington recognized that soldiers were performing extraordinary meritorious service to the war effort with no formal means of recognition. Washington created the Badge of Military Merit, considered to be the first military award issued within the United States Armed Forces, and the precursor to the Purple Heart. It was awarded to just three soldiers during the Revolutionary War.
The award’s creation was significant because it differed from the long-held European tradition of awaring senior ranking officers awards for victory. Instead, the Badge of Military Merit, and eventually the Purple Heart, would be awarded to any deserving service member of any rank. As Washington said, the “road to glory in a patriot army and a free country is…open to all.”
The Badge of Merit precipitated two modern military awards. The first is our present-day Medal of Honor for distinguished acts of valor. The very first Army Medal of Honor was awarded to Private Jacob Parrott during the American Civil War, for his actions in the Great Locomotive Chase, Ga. in April of 1862.
The second medal inspired by the Badge of Merit is the modern day Purple Heart. The ribbon is similar in color to the Badge of Merit and has a heart shaped medal that displays the bust of Washington. Executive Order 9277, signed by President Roosevelt on December 3, 1942, prescribes the Purple Heart be awarded to those serving with the Army, Navy, Marine Corps or Coast Guard of the United States who were wounded in action against an enemy of the United States.
A Day of Remembrance
To date, over 1.7 million soldiers, marines, sailors, airmen and coast guardsmen have received a Purple Heart. Purple Heart Day was set aside for remembrance and recognition, and is America’s oldest observed holiday.