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.
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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.
The post-1932 Purple Heart medals fall into 6 distinct
manufacturing styles, each of which is outlined below:
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.
||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,
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
||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
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.
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
||Hand engraved Heart to Ross L. Kendle. Sgt. Kendle was killed on D-Day, June
1944, at Omaha Beach while serving with the 743rd Tank
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.
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.
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,
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.
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
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