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What is the oldest U.S. Military Award?

What is the oldest U.S. Military Award?


What is the oldest military award?

The oldest military award is the Purple Heart.

Established on August 7, 1782 by General George Washington as a "Badge of Military Merit" awarded for "any singular meritorious action."


The Badge of Military Merit (pictured above) was issued to only three Revolutionary War soldiers and was not seen again until the end of WWI. 

On January 7, 1931, General Douglas MacArthur, confidentially reopened work on a new design with the Washington Commission of Fine Arts. Elizabeth Will, an Army heraldic specialist redesign the newly revived medal, her design sketch became known as the Purple Heart.

Shortly thereafter, plaster models from three of the leading sculptors competed based on the medal design. In May 1931, John R. Sinnock of the Philadelphia Mint was selected. 


Mr. John R. Sinnock (pictured above) was also credited with the design of the Roosevelt dime and the Franklin half-dollar. His initials "JS" on the dime can be found at the base of the Roosevelt bust. 

On February 22, 1932, the Purple Heart was revived on the 200th Anniversary of George Washington's birth, out of respect to his memory and military achievements.

General Orders No. 3, authorized the Purple Heart to be awarded to soldiers, who had been awarded the Meritorious Service Citation Certificate, Army Wound Ribbon, or were authorized to wear Wound Chevrons subsequent to April 5, 1917, the day before the United States entered World War I.

The first Purple Heart was awarded to General MacArthur during the early period of American involvement in World War II (December 7, 1941 – September 22, 1943). The Purple Heart was awarded both for wounds received in action against the enemy and for meritorious performance of duty.

On December 3, 1942 the practice of awarding the Purple Heart for meritorious service was discontinued and authorized only for wounds received. 

On June 13, 1985, an amendment to the 1985 Defense Authorization Bill changed the order of precedence from above the Good Conduct Medal to immediately above the Meritorious Service Medals.

In 1998, the National Defense Authorization Act removed authorization for award of the to any civilian national of the United States.

The November 2009 an edition of National Geographic magazine estimated the number of Purple Hearts issued during the below War periods:

World War I: 320,518

World War II: 1,076,245

Korean War: 118,650

Vietnam War: 351,794

Persian Golf War: 607

Afghanistan War: 7,027*

Iraq war 35,321*

*As of June 5, 2010

An individual is not "recommended" for the Purple Heart. He or she is entitled to it if meeting the strict criteria. Each subsequent award is denoted by an oak leaf cluster and one award is based on one wound or injury received at the same instant.

The Purple Heart medal and ribbon are very recognizable. They can be seen on bumper stickers, t-shirts, mugs, posters, lapel pins, tie designs and now pocket squares. See our version here.


What makes the Purple Heart unique is the award is a heart-shaped medal with a gold border and in the center General George Washington’s profile. At the top of the heart appears the shield of the coat of arms of George Washington resting upon sprays of green leaves on the medals face. 

The back of the medal consists of a raised bronze heart with the words “FOR MILITARY MERIT” below an additional coat of arms and leaves.

The Army and the Air Force recognize additional awards denoted by Oak leaf clusters. While the Marine Corps and navy denote them with a star.

The ribbon is purple and flanked on both the right and left in white lines.

The most Purple Hearts awarded to a single individual is nine. Marine Sgt. Albert L. Ireland (February 25, 1918 - November 16, 1997) holds that distinction, being awarded five Purple Heart Medals in World War II and four more in the Korean War.

Here is what the Pocket Square Heroes® inspired Purple Heart Design looks like.

Clean and elegant for any setting. Designed to fit in at networking functions. Click image to get one. 


Check out our version of other Veteran Pocket Square Heroes™ designs, by clicking on the below image.

Veteran owned, military pocket square, military funeral.


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  • Christopher Costa