Although the Purple Heart was created by President George Washington on this day in 1782, National Purple Heart Day has only been around since 2014. National Purple Heart Day is also known as Purple Heart Day, Purple Heart Recognition Day, and Purple Heart Appreciation Day. It’s considered an unofficial observance though communities across the nation observe the day in a number of different ways.
But first, let’s go through the history of the Purple Heart and its appearance within the LGBTQ+ Veteran community.
Before that, the SITREP would like to express appreciation for each and every servicemember and Veteran who has given life and limb for this nation’s defense. Thank you for your service and for your sacrifice.
Now, let’s get into it.
A Brief History
In 1782, General George Washington was the commander in chief of the Continental Army and he created the “Badge for Military Merit” that consisted of a purple, heart-shaped piece of silk edged in silver with the word Merit stitched across the front in silver.
The badge was presented to soldiers for “any singularly meritorious action” and allowed its wearers to bypass guards and sentinels without being challenged. Additionally, the honoree would have his name and regiment inscribed in a “Book of Merit.”
During the Revolutionary War, only three soldiers were known to have been awarded the “Purple Heart”: Elijah Churchill, William Brown, and Daniel Bissell, Jr. Sometime after, the “Book of Merit” was lost and the badge was forgotten, that is, until 1927 when U.S. Army Chief of Staff General Charles P. Summerall sent a draft bill to Congress to “revive the Badge of Military Merit.”
The bill was ultimately unsuccessful and the cause of reviving the decoration went to General Summerall’s successor General Douglas MacArthur in 1931. It was General MacArthur’s hope that the “Purple Heart” be revived in time for the bicentennial of George Washington’s birth.
This time around, the effort was successful and the U.S. War Department announced the creation of the “Order of the Purple Heart” on Washington’s 200th birthday, February 22, 1932. In its first days, the Purple Heart was only authorized to be awarded to those serving in the Army or the Army Air Corps. It wasn’t until 1942 that a presidential order would be signed opening the Purple Heart to all branches of the military including the U.S. Coast Guard.
Awarding the Purple Heart
Since the Revolutionary War, the Purple Heart has reportedly been awarded to more than 1.8 million servicemembers. Below is an estimation of awards for every conflict since the badges creation in 1782:
- Revolutionary War: Three
- World War I: 320,000 (Awarded retroactively to U.S. Army personnel wounded in action or who were presented a “Meritorious Service Citation Certificate” for actions during the war.)
- World War II: 1,000,000
- Korean War: 118,600
- Vietnam War: 351,000
- Persian Gulf War: 607
- War in Afghanistan: 12,500
- Iraq War: 35,000
To date, the criteria for earning the Purple Heart continues to evolve and is too long to list. In general, the medal is awarded to U.S. servicemembers who have been wounded, killed in action, or have died or may die from wounds received in any action against the United States, action with an opposing armed force, the results of any hostile “foreign force”, and other situations where servicemembers find themselves under attack.
🌈 The Purple Heart in the LGBTQ+ Veteran Community
Since the beginning, LGBTQ+ men and women have served in our nation’s military and have gone on to earn awards for their service. While researching for this article, it was surprising to find how few LGBTQ+ personnel were out there who had earned a Purple Heart. Below are some noted recipients of the Purple Heart and articles found in the search for this article:
- Technical Sergeant Leonard Matlovich, United States Air Force, for injuries from a land mine in Da Nang, Vietnam.
- Pride Month recalls military LGBT champions, Defense Logistics Agency, 24 June 2020
- 5 LGBTQ service members who changed military history, MilSpouseFest
- How a Closeted Air Force Sergeant Became the Face of Gay Rights, TIME, 08 September 2015
- Gay Airman Who Fought Ouster Dies From AIDS, New York Times, 24 June 1988
- Staff Sergeant Eric Fidelis Alva, United States Marine Corps, for loss of limb due to a land mine in Iraq in 2003.
- On Purple Heart Day, Meet the First Marine Seriously Injured in the Iraq War – A Proud Gay Man, Modern Military Association of America, 06 August 2019
- Gay Marine helps change history, The Harvard Gazette, 07 April 2017
- Op-Ed: Gay Purple Heart Recipient Says ‘Mission Not Accomplished’, The Advocate, 25 May 2015
- Amos “Pretty Much Spit on Me”, The Advocate, 15 December 2010
- Eric Alva, Wikipedia
- Sergeant Robert Stout, United States Army, awarded after grenade sent shrapnel into his arm, face, and legs while he was operating a machine gun on a Humvee in May 2004.
- Army boots openly gay Purple Heart winner, Deseret News, 01 June 2005
- Private: Gay Purple Heart Recipient Wants to Keep Serving, American Constitution Society, 07 April 2005
- Gay Soldier Who Won Purple Heart in Iraq Wants to Serve Openly, Associated Press via Fox News, 07 April 2005
- Stephanie Heart, United States Army, awarded after being wounded in a rocket attack in 2004.
- Transgender veteran speaks out on President Trump ban, 23 ABC News Bakersfield, 31 August 2017
- Local veteran, Purple Heart recipient shares story about being transgender in military, Bakersfield Now, 26 July 2017
- Senior Chief Petty Officer Kristin Beck, United States Navy, awarded for wounds suffered in combat.
- Ep. 27: Kristin Beck: A Navy SEAL, a Purple Heart, and a Transgender Activist, Glenn Zweig, 13 February 2018
- Kristin Beck, Military Wikia
- Kristin Beck, Wikipedia
If you know of any LGBTQ+ Veterans or Servicemembers who have received the Purple Heart, feel free to send a message to the SITREP so they can be mentioned in future content: firstname.lastname@example.org.
Read More About the Purple Heart
- A Guide to the Most Purple Hearts Awarded in Each Conflict, Medals of America -Military Blog
- 8 Things You Need to Know About the Purple Heart Medal, USO.org
- Purple Heart, Wikipedia
- The Purple Heart – The Story of America’s Oldest Military Decoration and Some Soldier Recipients, The Army Historical Foundation
- This Day in History – August 07: George Washington creates the Purple Heart, HIstory.com