BAGRAM AIRFIELD, Afghanistan (Aug. 10, 2015) — On May 9, 2015, during a combat patrol around Bagram Airfield, or BAF, Pfc. Matthew Aiken’s vehicle was struck by an improvised explosive device, or lED. As the vehicle’s gunner, Aiken’s upper torso and head were directly exposed to the detonation. At BAF’s Craig Hospital, it was determined that he received a concussion because of his proximity to the detonation of the IED.
On May 20, 2015, for his exceptional meritorious service to the United States for Alpha Company, 21st Engineer Battalion, Task Force Solid, U.S. Forces – Afghanistan, Aiken was awarded the Purple Heart.
On June 30, 2015, Pfc. Tyler Cook was returning to the New Kabul Compound on a mounted patrol. Approximately 200 meters from the compound, a vehicle-borne IED detonated in front of his vehicle while he was inside. Also with him was Pvt. Zachary Lovett, who was driving. Both, from Delta Company, 2nd Battalion 15th Field Artillery, 10th Mountain Division, Fort Drum, New York, received the Purple Heart for injuries received in action caused directly by enemy forces.
Aug. 7 is National Purple Heart Appreciation Day and marks the anniversary of the oldest military award that’s awarded in the name of the President of the United States to any member of an Armed Force or any civilian national of the United States wounded or killed, or who has died after being wounded.
On Aug. 7, 1782, George Washington, then the commander-in-chief of the Continental Army, established the Badge of Military Merit, a predecessor to the Purple Heart. Once the Revolutionary War ended, the award was forgotten until 1918, when Gen. John J. “Blackjack” Pershing suggested a need for an award for merit. It was not until 1932 that the Purple Heart was revived.
At first, the Purple Heart was only awarded to Army and Army Air Corps personnel and could not be awarded posthumously. In 1942, President Franklin Roosevelt signed an executive order allowing the Navy to award the Purple Heart to Sailors, Marines, and Coast Guard personnel. Also in that year, the Purple Heart was made available for posthumous award to any member of the military killed on or after Dec. 7, 1941.
The Badge of Military Merit was only awarded to three Revolutionary War Soldiers: Sgt. Elijah Churchill, 2nd Continental Dragoons, and Sgt. William Brown, 5th Connecticut Continental Line Infantry, on May 3, 1783; and Sgt. Daniel Bissel, 2nd Connecticut Continental Line Infantry, on June 10, 1783.
According to the U.S. Army Center of Military History, current eligibility and conditions for the award are defined in Army Regulations 600-8-22. Paragraph 2-8e carries the notice that “any member of the Army who was awarded the Purple Heart for meritorious achievement or service, as opposed to wounds received in action, between Dec. 7 1941, and Sept. 22, 1943, may apply for award of an appropriate decoration instead of the Purple Heart.”
The Purple Heart is ranked immediately behind the bronze star in order of precedence among personal awards. According to the National Purple Heart Hall of Honor, New Windsor, New York, there’s not a consistent record kept since the award was established in 1932. It’s estimated that the total number awarded is 1.8 million.
Eight facts about the Purple Heart:
1) Until 1931, the Purple Heart was known as the Badge of Military Merit.
2) The three words inscribed on the reverse side of the Purple Heart are, “For Military Merit.”
3) Per surviving records, Sgt. Elijah Churchill Sergeant William Brown and Sgt. Daniel Bissell, Jr. are the three noncommissioned officers who received the original honor badge (Purple Heart).
4) In 1931, Miss Elizabeth Will, an Army heraldic specialist in the Office of the Quartermaster General, was named to redesign the newly revived medal.
5) After its discontinuation following the Revolution, the Purple Heart was revived on the bicentennial of George Washington’s birth (the original creator of the medal).
6) On Dec. 3, 1942, President Franklin D. Roosevelt extended the use of the Purple Heart to all services.
7) The Purple Heart is ranked immediately behind the Bronze Star in order of precedence among the personal awards.
8) The Purple Heart is the oldest military award that is still given to members of the U.S. military and differs from all other decorations in that an individual is not “recommended” for the decoration; rather he or she is entitled to it upon meeting specific criteria.