The Purple Heart.

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One of the most famous and emotive US awards the Purple Heart was re-established February 22, 1932 though the original was awarded by George Washington in 1782 to reward troops for “unusual gallantry” and “extraordinary fidelity and essential service.” This award was a purple cloth heart edged in silver braid. two are known to exist today of the three awards known to have been issued. The original (1932) issue medals had a heart shape made of fired or lacquered enamel, being replaced with plastic during WW2. The outer shape is gold coloured metal with an effigy of George Washington placed on the inner purple heart. At the top is the Washington family coat of arms and either side laurels. On the reverse “For Military Merit” and space for the recipient’s name to be engraved. Total awarded circa 1.9 million. Award criteria being wounded or killed in any action against an enemy of the United States or because of an act of any such enemy or opposing armed forces. The story doing the rounds is that 500,000 were ordered in 1945 due to the planned invasion of mainland Japan but because of Hiroshima and Nagasaki were never issued and these medals were then subsequently awarded for Korea, Vietnam, Gulf War and even up to the Iraq War (2003).

The War Department amended its policy in April 1942 regarding the issue of the Purple Heart and these new regulations authorised the Purple Heart to be awarded posthumously retroactive to December 7, 1941, and the medal was no longer issued as a merit award. The Department of the Navy also authorised the award of the Purple Heart for all fatal and non-fatal wounds retroactive to December 7, 1941.

Due to the numbers manufactured and issued there is no official count of the amount of numbers issued during WW2. Official records are 964,000 casualties including non-fatal from December 7, 1941 to December 31, 1946. In the case of non-fatal wounds Unit and hospital commanders had the authority to issue awards but in the case of fatal wounds the War Department awarded the medal to the next of kin.

During the Korean War there were 118,650 fatal and non-fatal casualties and exact numbers of medals awarded cannot be fully established. Approximately 351,794 Purple Hearts were awarded during the Vietnam War. The award was amended in 1973 to include US service personnel undertaking peace keeping duties outside of the United States and in 1984 this was extended to civilians supporting the military who were injured during terrorist attacks. Modern operations for which the Purple Heart has been awarded include Grenada, Panama, Gulf War, Bosnia, Afghanistan and Iraq.

There were several manufacturers of the Purple Heart during WW2 and these included for the Army Contract, American Emblem Co, Bailey Banks & Biddle (BB&B), Freeman Daughaday, Medal Arts, Robbins Co and for the Navy Contract, the US Mint. During this period there were several different methods of manufacture including differences with the suspension brooch, the enamel or plastic heart and numbering.

There were four different types on the Army contract with two different type 1’s and the Navy had four types also. The type five was produced post WW2 for both Army and Navy.

There were 2 contracts that were numbered during WW2 and these were awarded to Rex Products and the Robbins Co. There were numbered contracts issued before WW2 to BB&B and Metal Arts. From July 1st 1942 numbers 100,000 to 400,000 to Rex Products and 400,001 to 600,000 to Robbins.

The first Rex 125,000 were on a slot brooch and fire enamel heart (100,000 to 225,000) and the next 90,000 (225,001 to 315,000) were Lacquer enamel. Robbins on a slot brooch enamel heart (400,001 – 490,000 approx) and the next 110,000 with a plastic heart. The US mint 1942 contract produced Purple Hearts were on wrap around split brooch, unnumbered with a plastic heart followed in 1944 with a sterling wrap brooch, plastic heart and from 1945 with a slot brooch, plastic heart again unnumbered and no Navy Purple Hearts were numbered but due to the US Mint being unable to achieve production requirements the Navy acquired some 60,000 Purple hearts from the Army in 1945 and these were the only numbered medals issued by the *Navy and were slot brooch.

The reasons for switching to plastic from enamel was time due to the volume ordered plus numbering was also time consuming.

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Rex Products #275375 with lacquer enamelled heart. Information I had about this medal is that it was awarded in *Vietnam to a USMC helicopter pilot so could be one of the 60,000 the Navy had from the Army in 1945 and stockpiled for later issue as a lot of WW2 manufactured Purple Hearts were. Post war produced Purple Hearts had Crimp suspender as produced by Williams & Anderson and more recently by Ira Green (G23) and Graco Industries (G27).

There has been a lot of interesting dialogue recently on the engraving of medals both official and unofficial (private). Official are exactly what they say they are and are usually only for posthumous awards, but Veterans can also have replacements engraved or have the medal returned for engraving. Private engraving is usually undertaken by the families of veterans or veterans themselves. This engraving of medals is an issue at present as unfortunately there has been documented on the net, Purple Hearts that have been falsely engraved with the aim of selling them at a higher price. Buyer beware as engraved Purple Hearts can pose issues for the dealer and collector.  A lot has been written about different styles of engraving and they can vary from different font, size and type of machine or hand engraving style.

For further information on engraving styles on the Purple Heart I suggest visiting the following website: http://www.purplehearts.net

There is a vast amount of information on the Purple Heart including the issue of shall we say “Original Engraved” for sale on internet auction sites?

I have in my collection 4 Purple Hearts, 2 of which are in presentation boxes. All 4 are loop suspender and one is a lacquer finished heart numbered as shown above manufactured by Rex Products. In the UK it is legal to buy and sell the Purple Heart as it is with other medals but recently there have been moves to ban the sale of named Purple Hearts in the United States.

This is part of an article from the Orders & medals Society of America that will raise a few eye brows in the states:

“In September 2016, Member of Congress Paul Cook, a Republican from California, introduced legislation (H.R. 6234) that would make it a crime (a misdemeanor, and not a felony) to buy, sell, or trade any Purple Heart awarded to a member of the armed forces. Cook’s legislation was referred to the House Committee on the Judiciary, where it will be examined.

Congressman Cook is a retired Marine colonel, and he feels strongly that there should be no buying or selling of Purple Hearts that have been awarded. His rationale is that the Purple Heart “holds a special place of honor” as a symbol of “the great and sometimes ultimate sacrifice of American service members.” Note that Cook’s legislation would not prohibit the buying and selling of all Purple Hearts. Rather, it would only prohibit the buying and selling of those actually awarded to individuals. For us collectors, however, as we are chiefly interested in medals linked to a recipient, Congressman Cook’s legislation has the potential to strike at the heart of collecting Purple Hearts”.

Note however this is just a proposal and has to go through the Members of Congress on the Committee of the Judiciary before any legislation can be enacted. I would also point out that this applies only to Purple Hearts that have actually been awarded to service personnel. The argument here is about veterans rights and property and how they dispose of it?
Whilst collectors of these and other medals from all countries would agree with Congressman Cook’s integrity on this issue any legislation prohibiting sales of the Purple Heart could then filter down to other awards.
At present it is illegal to buy or sell any Medal of Honor including ribbons and lapel pins unless awarded to the recipient or family but not other medals and the Stolen Valor act 2003 was enacted to prevent people from buying medals and claiming they had earned them in the service of their country. There is a similar act going through Parliament in the UK.

The main issue with the Purple Heart proposal is access in the US to genuine issued medals and any associated history and let’s face it, it’s probably the best place to get them. There are some decent original US medals available in the UK but nowhere near the amount from across the pond. I should know I’ve bought a fair few from there and cheaper including postage than buying them in the UK?

Hopefully this legislation will not go through Congress and if it does apart from affecting the US only will be another nail in the medal collectors coffin.

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Notable recipients of the Purple Heart:

Actors: James Arness, Dan Blocker, Charles Bronson, James Garner, Dale Dye, Lee Marvin, Audie Murphy, Telly Savalas.

Famous military: Ron Kovic (author), Robert Leckie (author), Ernie Pyle (author), Norman Schwarzkopf Jr, Colin Powell, Maj Richard Winters (506th PIR), Chuck Yeager (USAF).

Politicians: Bob Dole, John F Kennedy (35th President of the United States), Senator John McCain.

There are many more I could mention and apologies for leaving these people off the above list who no doubt are worthy of their award as the figures below demonstrate:

WW1: 320,518

WW2: 1,076,245

Korean War: 118,650

Vietnam War: 351,794

Gulf War: 607

Afghanistan War: 12,534 (2011)

Iraq War: 35,411 (2011)

Devices: 🍂 = Bronze & Silver Oak Leaf. Army & Air Force. Subsequent Award, bronze = second up to Silver = 5.

˜ Gold & Silver Star. Navy, Marine Corp & Coast Guard. Subsequent Award, bronze = second up to Silver = 5.

  • Reference sources: The Call of Duty, (R James Bender Publishing 1994) John E Sandberg & Roger James Bender.
  • American War Medals & Decorations. (Viking Press, New York. Leo Cooper Ltd, 1st UK Edition 1973) Evans E Kerrigan
  • US Military Medals 1939 to Present (Medals of America Press 1998, Fountain Inn, SC) Col. Frank Foster & Mr. Lawrence Borts.
  • Wikipedia.
  • www.purplehearts.net
  • Orders and Medal Society of America.

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