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The Purple Heart The Purple Heart

 

This page is provided as a general guideline to the US Purple Heart medal for collectors and historians.  While it is in no way meant to be complete, I believe it does provide an good overview of the history and styles of the Purple Heart.  

Of you have any comments, corrections or additions please email me at:  tom@purplehearts.net

Just click on the links below to jump to specific sections, or simply scroll down to read the entire page:

The Badge of Military Merit

The Modern Award Medal Types Engraving Styles

The Badge for Military Merit

The original Purple Heart award was instituted by George Washington in 1782 to reward troops for "unusual gallantry" and "extraordinary fidelity and essential service." The award was a purple cloth heart edged in silver braid, and was to be worn over the left breast of the uniform.   Only three awards are known to have been issued, of which two are known to exist today.

One of the two known examples of the Badge for Military Merit.

The Modern Award

Pre-WW2 Awards: The Purple Heart as we know it today was reestablished in 1932 to coincide with the 200th anniversary of the birth of George Washington.  The original criteria for award of the Purple Heart as published in the War Department Circular No. 6 of February 22, 1932 states that the medal be awarded to anyone serving in the Army who had received combat-related injuries or had received the AEF's Meritorious Service Citation Certificate during WWI, the latter criteria harkening back to the intent of George Washington's "Badge of Military Merit".  

Although this awards was retroactive to any soldier wounded from the Civil War on, eligible recipients were required to submit a formal application to the War Department for approval before the issuance of the medal.  In 1942 the Army estimated that approximately 186,000 living veterans were eligible to receive a retroactive Purple Heart.  Approximately 78,000 retroactive Purple Hearts were awarded between 1932 and 1942.  

While the award of the Purple Heart was not authorized by the Navy until 1942, sailors and Marines who had been wounded prior to 1932 were eligible to apply for the medal.  While no numbers are available concerning the award to Navy and Marine personnel, approximately 12,000 sailors and Marines were wounded between the Civil War and the Nicaragua Campaign of 1932.


WWII Awards: In April 1942 the War Department amended its policy regarding the issuance of the Purple Heart.  The new regulations authorized the posthumous award of the Purple Heart retroactive to December 7, 1941, and eliminated the use of the medal as a merit award.  

In December 1942 the Navy Department authorized the award of the Purple Heart for all fatal and non-fatal wounds retroactive to December 7, 1941.  However, sailors and Marines wounded prior to this date were still eligible to receive a Purple Heart upon application.

The award of the medal during WWII became increasingly decentralized.  Authority for the award was given to hospital commanders and unit commanders in the case of non-fatal wounds, and the War Department in the case of fatal wounds awarded to the next of kin.  Thus while no official count of the number of Purple Hearts issued can be established, official War Department records indicate approximately 964,000 battle casualties (non-fatal and fatal) for the period of December 7, 1941 through December 31, 1946.  


Korean War Awards: Again, due to the decentralization of awards, exact numbers of medals awarded for the Korean War cannot be established. There were approximately 33,600 fatal and 103,200 non-fatal casualties during this period.


Vietnam Era Awards: Awards for this period fall into two categories: awards for wounds received in the Vietnam Theatre of Operations (Vietnam, Cambodia, and Laos) and other geographical areas, including the attack on the USS Pueblo, the Dominican Republic, and Cuba.  Approximately 200,700 Purple Hearts were awarded during this period.  


Current Awards: In addition to awards to those killed or wounded "in any action against an enemy of the United States", the criteria for the award of the medal was amended to include those killed or wounded as a result of "an international terrorist attack," and "as part of a peacekeeping force."  Thus in addition to awards for Grenada (Operation Urgent Fury), Panama (Operation Just Cause) and Iraq (Operation Desert Storm and Operation Iraqi Freedom) the medal is awarded for fatal and non-fatal wounds arising as a result of peacekeeping efforts such as Lebanon, Haiti, Somalia, and Bosnia-Croatia.  


Medal Types

The post-1932 Purple Heart medals fall into 6 distinct manufacturing styles, each of which is outlined below:

Army:

Type 1a (1932-1940): bronze gilt medal, enamel heart, split wrap brooch,  1 to 5 digits numbered on rim.  Awarded to the recipient by application only, therefore all Army Type I Hearts will be engraved on the reverse with the recipient's name.

An example of a split wrap brooch Example of split wrap brooch as it appears on Army Type I and Navy Type I medals.
An example of five digit Type I numbering.  Purple Heart no. 46628 as awarded to Pf. Daniel Braguto, Co C. 113th Infantry, 29th Division for wounds received on October 23, 1918.  This medal was awarded on August 27, 1934

Type Ib (1939-1941): bronze gilt, enamel heart, bent slot brooch, 5 digit numbering on rim.  1939 contract manufactured by Medal Arts, the primary distinction in this style is the brooch, as pictured below.

Bent slot brooch on Type Ib medal, numbered 71273, awarded to Cpl. Fred P. Lowe, Company D, 12th Engineers. WIA March 23, 1918 during Somme Defensive. Awarded March 20, 1941 (thanks to Rich Witt for the scan)

Type II (1942-43): bronze gilt, enamel or plastic heart, slot brooch, 6 digit numbering on rim.  Manufactured by Rex Products Company (numbers 100,000 to 400,000) and The Robbins Company (numbers 400,001 to 600,000).  Due to production problems incurred in the manufacture of this Type, the two civilian contractors manufacturing these pieces switched from enamel to plastic hearts early in their production runs.

An example of six digit numbering on an Army Type II medal. Unfortunately, there are no records of Type II numbers, nor were the medals issued consecutively.  Both Army Type II and Type III medals were issued contemporaneously.
Example of slot brooch as it appears on the Army Type II and Type III awards

Type III (1943-45): bronze gilt, plastic heart, slot brooch, unnumbered

Type IV (1970's-current): bronze gilt, plastic heart, unnumbered, crimp brooch.  No Purple Hearts were manufactured for the Army for 25 years after WWII.  In anticipation of the invasion of Japan, approximately 500,000 Purple Hearts were manufactured.  This stock lasted through the Vietnam War.

Example of the Type IV crimp brooch.  Although this type of brooch began to appear on other US awards immediately after WWII, it did not begin to appear on Purple Hearts until the entire stock of WWII manufactured items was exhausted

Navy/Marine:

Type I (1943-1943): sterling silver gilt, plastic heart, split wrap brooch, unnumbered.  Initial production run of 135,000 ordered by the Navy's Bureau of Personnel from the US mint.  Identical to the Army Type I except for rim numbering.

An example of a split wrap brooch

 

Type II (1944-1945): Bronze gilt, plastic heart, full wrap brooch, unnumbered. Second Navy contract of October 1944 for 25,000 Hearts.

An example of a full wrap brooch


Type III (1945): Identical to Army Type III above.  Due to shortages in their stock, the Navy borrowed 60,000 Purple Hearts from the Army in May 1945.

Type IV (1960's - current): Identical to Army Type IV above. Currently the U.S. Army's Institute of Heraldry establishes specifications for all Department of Defense awards, thus there is no longer a distinction in manufacture between Navy and Army awards.


Engraving Styles

Engraved Purple Hearts can be very troublesome for the collector and historian alike.  Much has been written about engraving styles and it is essential for the collector or historian to be able to discern the various engraving styles in order to determine the relative date of the award, and more importantly to determine if the medal is officially government engraved or privately engraved.  

In general it can be said that all posthumous awards are officially government engraved.  They were sent to the next of kin and after the medal was engraved.  Medals issued in field (for most all non-fatal wounds) were not officially engraved. Therefore the discussion below necessarily concentrates on known posthumous Purple Hearts and pre-1942 awards. 


Pre-1942 Awards: All Purple Hearts awarded prior to 1942 were issued by the War Department after the proposed recipient had applied for it.  Thus all pre-1942 awards are hand engraved to the recipient.  Engraving is done by hand with all capital serif letters measuring approximately 1/16 to 1/8" in height.

An example of 1930's engraving.  Pfc Daniel Braguto was wounded on October 23, 1918 while serving with Co. C, 113th Infantry.  His Purple Heart was awarded on August 27, 1934 and is numbered 46629 on the rim



WWII Awards:  This area can be the most enigmatic for the collector.  Both the Army and Navy used different styles of engraving as the war progressed.

Army:  Posthumous Army Purple Hearts were issued to the next of kin from the Philadelphia Quartermaster Depot once determination of death was made.  The only information appearing on the reverse of WWII Army Purple Hearts is the recipients name (see Navy Purple Hearts section below for a discussion of Navy engraving styles).  Therefore engraved Army Purple Hearts with rank , branch of service, unit, date of casualty, or serial number are necessarily privately engraved. WW2 era engraving for Army awards falls into 4 distinct categories:

Hand Engraved:

Hand engraved Heart to Ross L. Kendle.  Sgt. Kendle was killed on D-Day, June 6 1944, at Omaha Beach while serving with the 743rd Tank Battalion
           

Large Blackened Machine Engraving:

Sgt. Vernon C. Burke was killed in action on May 12, 1944 while serving with the 548th Bomb Squadron, 385th Bomb Group (H) while on a bombing mission to Coburg, Germany


Small Blackened Machine Engraving:

T4 Elmer Wirak was killed in action on April 29, 1945 while serving with Co. E, 18th Infantry, 1st Infantry Division in Germany.


Stamped:

Very rare impressing style used only for approximately two months in July-August 1945. This style of stamping can also be seen on a number of non-posthumous medals as the pantograph machines were available in some demobilization stations, where demobilizing soldiers were able to impress their medals before departing.  

2nd Lt. Paul E. McCluskey was determined killed in action after becoming MIA on August 10, 1944 while serving with the 359th Fighter Group, 369th Fighter Squadron.  

Script:

This is actually a post-WWII style of engraving, sometimes seen on posthumous awards which were issued in 1947.

Script engraved Purple Heart to Pfc. Albert M. Davis, Co. D, 242nd. Inf. Regt., 42nd Div.  Pfc. Davis  was MIA in Jan. 1945 and died of wounds as a POW in a German Field Hospital.  His remains were recovered in July 1945. (thanks to Dom Pastore for the scan)

WWII Navy and Marine Corps Awards: WW2 posthumous Navy/Marine awards differ greatly from Army awards of the same period.  Although the medals themselves were manufactured by the U.S. Mint, the task of hand engraving was contracted out to civilian engravers.  Instead of simply engraving the name of the recipient on the reverse, WW2 Navy Purple Hearts were hand engraved with rank and branch as well.  While a discussion of the different types  and hands of engraving is beyond the scope of this page, please refer to the excellent article by Barry Weaver listed below under "Sources".  A few examples are shown below for reference:

Navy Type I Purple Heart awarded to John W. Ant.  Note order of engraving is rank, name, branch.  Pfc Ant was killed in action on July 27, 1944 in Guam while serving with Co L, 3rd Bn., 22nd Marines, 1st Provisional Marine brigade when an enemy bullet struck a grenade he was carrying.  The body was determined to be non-recoverable
Navy Type III Purple Heart awarded to Roy K Marin. Note engraving order is name, rank, and branch. MoMM2c Marin was serving aboard the submarine USS Bullhead when the submarine failed to return from patrol  in the Java Sea in August 1945, and presumed sunk by Japanese aerial bombardment.   The Bullhead was the last US submarine sunk during WW2
Navy Type I Purple Heart to Richard J. Lardie.  MM3c Lardie was missing and presumed killed when the minesweeper USS Skill was sunk by a German U-Boat on September 25, 1943 while participating in the Salerno operations off the coast of Italy.
Navy Type I Purple Heart to George Miller. PhoM2c Miller was missing and presumed killed while serving aboard the escort carrier USS Gambier Bay, which was sunk by Japanese naval gunfire during the Battle of Leyte Gulf on October 24, 1944.  

Current Awards: current awards of named Purple Hearts fall into two basic categories: a) posthumous awards for post-Vietnam actions, and b) replacement medals as issued by the National Personnel Records Center in St. Louis to any veteran requesting them.  Thus current naming does not indicate a posthumous award.  It is important to note the style of engraving to determine the time the medal was engraved.  All current issue engraved medals have a sans-serif all capital, non-blackened machine engraving. Letters are 1/16" in height

An example of current engraving style.  This medal is a replacement piece sent to the next of kin of Pfc. Darwin D. Gordon, Co. C, 3rd Bn, 60th Infantry, 9th Infantry Division who was killed in action on March 24, 1968 in Dinh Tuong Province, Vietnam.

A brief note to collectors: recently a number of engraved Purple Hearts in this style have been seen in the marketplace.  These medals, while considered legitimate pieces, they contain misspellings, are engraved at an angle, or are other rejected pieces.  Allegedly the engraver sold these scrap pieces, numbering in the hundreds, to a metal recycler.  Realizing what they were, the recycler sold them to a militaria dealer. They will often but not always appear on the market as a planchet only, without ribbon, ring, or brooch.   While they may be considered legitimate Purple Hearts, they were never officially issued and should hold no collectible value as a named piece.


Sources:

The Call of Duty, by John E. Strandberg and Roger James Bender, James Bender Publishing, San Jose, CA, 1994

The Purple Heart, Frederic L. Borch III and F.C. Brown, Borch and Westlake Publishing, 1996

"Classification of World War II Named Purple Hearts Awarded to Navy and Marine Corps Personnel" in The Medal Collector, by Barry Weaver

"Naming of Posthumous Word War II Army Purple Hearts" in The Medal Collector, Vol 46, No. 11, by Frank E. Smith and Kurt A. Stauffer

Comments or questions? Email me at tom@purplehearts.net