The Purple Heart is a purple heart within a Gold border, 1 3/8 inches wide,
containing a profile of General George Washington. Above the heart appears a
shield of the Washington Coat of Arms (a White shield with two Red bars and
three Red stars in chief) between sprays of Green leaves. The reverse consists of
a raised Bronze heart with the words "FOR MILITARY MERIT" below the coat of
arms and leaves. The ribbon is 1 3/8 inches wide and consists of the following
stripes: 1/8 inch White 67101; 1 1/8 inches Purple 67115; and 1/8 inch White
The original Purple Heart, designated as the Badge of Military Merit, was
established by General George Washington by order from his headquarters at
Newburgh, New York, August 7, 1782. Subsequent to the Revolution, the Badge of
Military Merit (also known as the Order of the Purple Heart) had fallen into disuse
and no further awards were made. By Order of the President of the United States,
the Purple Heart was revived on the 200th Anniversary of George Washington's
birth, out of respect to his memory and military achievements, by War Department
General Orders No. 3, dated February 22, 1932. The criteria was announced in
War Department Circular dated February 22, 1932 and authorized award to
soldiers, upon their request, who had been awarded the Meritorious Service
Citation Certificate, Army Wound Ribbon, or were authorized to wear Wound
Chevrons subsequent to April 5, 1917.
During the early period of World War II (December 7, 1941 to September 22,
1943), the Purple Heart was awarded both for wounds received in action against
the enemy and for meritorious performance of duty. With the establishment of the
Legion of Merit, by an Act of Congress, the practice of awarding the Purple Heart
for meritorious service was discontinued. By Executive Order 9277, dated
December 3, 1942, the decoration was extended to be applicable to all services
and the order required that regulations of the Services be uniform in application
as far as practicable. This executive order also authorized award only for wounds
Executive Order 10409, dated February 12, 1952, revised authorizations to include
the Service Secretaries subject to approval of the Secretary of Defense. Executive
Order 11016, dated April 25, 1962, included provisions for posthumous award of
the Purple Heart. Executive Order 12464, dated February 23, 1984, authorized
award of the Purple Heart as a result of terrorist attacks or while serving as part of
a peacekeeping force subsequent to March 28, 1973.
The Senate approved an amendment to the 1985 Defense Authorization Bill on
June 13, 1985, which changed the precedent from immediately above the Good
Conduct Medal to immediately above the Meritorious Service Medals. Public Law
99-145 authorized the award for wounds received as a result of friendly fire. Public
Law 104-106 expanded the eligibility date, authorizing award of the Purple Heart to
a former prisoner of war who was wounded before April 25, 1962.
The National Defense Authorization Act for Fiscal Year 1998 (Public Law 105-85)
changed the criteria to delete authorization for award of the Purple Heart Medal to
any civilian national of the United States while serving under competent authority
in any capacity with the Armed Forces. This change was effective May 18, 1998.
Criteria / Award Specifications
The Purple Heart differs from all other decorations in that an individual is not
"recommended" for the decoration; rather he or she is entitled upon being killed or
wounded in a manner meeting the specific criteria of AR 600-8-22:
In any action against an enemy of the United States;
In any action with an opposing armed force of a foreign country in which the Armed
Forces of the United States are or have been engaged;
While serving with friendly foreign forces engaged in an armed conflict against an
opposing armed force in which the United States is not a belligerent party;
As a result of an act of any such enemy of opposing armed forces;
As the result of an act of any hostile foreign force;
After March 28, 1973, as a result of an international terrorist attack against the
United States or a foreign nation friendly to the United States, recognized as such
an attack by the Secretary of the department concerned, or jointly by the
Secretaries of the departments concerned if persons from more than one
department are wounded in the attack; or,
After March 28, 1973, as a result of military operations, while serving outside the
territory of the United States as part of a peacekeeping force.
After December 7, 1941, by weapon fire while directly engaged in armed conflict,
regardless of the fire causing the wound.
While held as a prisoner of war or while being taken captive.
A "wound" is defined as an injury to any part of the body from an outside force or
agent. A physical lesion is not required; however, the wound for which the award
is made must have required treatment by a medical officer and records of medical
treatment for wounds or injuries received in action must have been made a matter
of official record.
Individuals wounded or killed as a result of "friendly fire" in the "heat of battle" will
be awarded the Purple Heart as long as the "friendly" projectile or agent was
released with the full intent of inflicting damage or destroying enemy troops or
Examples of enemy-related injuries which clearly justify award of the Purple Heart
are as follows:
Injury caused by enemy bullet, shrapnel, or other projectile created by enemy
Injury caused by enemy placed mine or trap.
Injury caused by enemy released chemical, biological or nuclear agent.
Injury caused by vehicle or aircraft accident resulting from enemy fire.
Concussion injuries caused as a result of enemy generated explosions.
Examples of combat related injuries which do not qualify for the Purple Heart are
Developing a service connected disability, such as Post Traumatic Stress
Disorder, months or years after having been engaged in enemy combat.
Suffering environmental injuries in a combat zone, such as frostbite or sunburn
Injured while performing a mission related to combat, but not in direct contact with
enemy forces. An example would be falling and breaking a bone while on a patrol
for an enemy camp or being involved in a vehicle accident while tranversing a road
through a combat zone.
A physical disability which occurred relating to combat with the enemy. An
example would be a service member who suffered from hearing loss after having
been shelled by enemy artillery.
An injury which occurred in combat, but was as the result of taking cover or
retreating. An example would be a soldier who, while under fire from the enemy,
dives into a fox hole and shatters a bone or dislocates a joint.
A malicious injury caused by another allied solider. An example would be having
been shot deliberately, by another friendly forces soldier, as the result of an
Injured by the enemy though sheer negligence of duty. An example would be
intentionally walking into a marked enemy minefield or deliberately exposing
oneself to enemy fire with a desire to be wounded or killed. Such cases are often
very hard to determine, since the definition of negligence is open to interpretation.
Any self inflicted wound, even if it was during combat with an enemy. If determined
to be "in the heat of the battle", such as being shot with ones own weapon while
struggling hand to hand with an enemy, the Purple Heart may be authorized. The
stipulation mainly applies to those who wound themselves on purpose to avoid
combat duty or who seek evacuation from a dangerous area.
Presentation of the Purple Heart
Modern Day Presentations
Current active duty personnel are awarded the Purple Heart upon
recommendation from their chain of command, stating the injury that was received
and the action in which the service member was wounded. The award authority for
the Purple Heart is normally at the level of an Army Brigade, Marine Corps
Division, Air Force Flight, or Navy Task Force. While the award of the Purple Heart
is considered automatic for all wounds received in combat, each award
presentation must still be reviewed to ensure that the wounds received were as a
result of enemy action.
Modern day Purple Heart presentations are recorded in both hardcopy and
electronic service records. The annotation of the Purple Heart is denoted both with
the service member's parent command and at the headquarters of the military
service department. An original citation and award certificate are presented to the
service member and filed in the field service record.
During the Vietnam War, Korean War and World War II, the Purple Heart was often
awarded "on the spot", with occasional entries made into service records, but this
was often not the case. In addition, during the mass demobilizations that followed
each of America's major wars of the 20th century, it was a common occurrence for
the Purple Heart to be omitted from service records, due to clerical errors, once
the service record was closed upon discharge.
An added complication is that a number of field commanders would engage in
"bedside presentations" of the Purple Heart which would typically entail a General
entering a hospital with a box of Purple Hearts, pinning them on the pillows of
wounded service members, and then departing with no official records kept of the
visit or the award of the Purple Heart. Service members, themselves, could
complicate the issue by leaving hospitals unofficially, returning to their units in
haste to rejoin a battle or to not appear as a malinger. In such cases, even if a
service member had received actual wounds in combat, both the award of the
Purple Heart, as well as the entire visit to the hospital which treated the enemy
wound, would never be recorded in official records.
Service members requesting retroactive awards of the Purple Heart must
normally apply through the National Personnel Records Center. Following a
review of service records, those Army members so qualified are awarded the
Purple Heart by the U.S. Army Human Resources Command in Alexandria,
Virginia. Air Force veterans are awarded the Purple Heart by the Awards Office of
Randolph Air Force Base while the Navy, Marine Corps, and United States Coast
Guard presents Purple Hearts to veterans through the Navy Liaison Officer at the
National Personnel Records Center.
Simple clerical errors, where a Purple Heart is denoted in military records but was
simply omitted from a Report of Separation, are corrected on site at the National
Personnel Records Center through issuance of a document known as a DD-215.
As the Purple Heart did not exist prior to 1932, records of the decoration are not
annotated in service histories of those veterans who were wounded or killed by
enemy action prior to the establishment of the medal. The Purple Heart, however,
is retroactive to 1917 meaning that it may be presented to veterans as far back as
the First World War. In such cases, service departments will review service
histories and all available records to determine if a veteran may be retroactively
awarded the Purple Heart.
Destroyed Record Requests
Due to the 1973 National Archives Fire, a large number of retroactive Purple Heart
requests are difficult to verify since all records to substantiate the award may very
well have been destroyed. As a solution to this, the National Personnel Records
Center maintains a separate office to deal with Purple Heart requests where
service records have been destroyed in the 1973 fire. In such cases, NPRC
searches through unit records, military pay records, and records of the
Department of Veterans Affairs. If a Purple Heart is warranted, all available
alternate records sources are forwarded to the military service department for final
determination of issuance.
Last resort requests
Some veterans, who have exhausted all available sources, often still feel that they
should be awarded a Purple Heart, even if there are no records of the decoration.
In such cases, service members may appeal directly to the military service
department by way of a Defense Department Form 149, which requests an official
change to military records. Usually, if the 149 is denied by the service department,
there is nothing more a veteran can do and will not be awarded the Purple Heart.
In some cases, however, veterans have been recommended for the Purple Heart,
after the fact, by a United States Senator or Congressman. Such cases are treated
as brand new award recommendations and the process for presenting the Purple
Heart begins again with a review of records and interview of witnesses to the
action in which a service member was wounded