The valor of the Navy SEALs has received much attention in the last few days – as it should. Today, on the anniversary of the first awarded Purple Hearts, we remember not only those who now serve, but all those who have already set this example of tenacity and bravery.
The Purple Heart was instituted by General Washington during the American Revolution, and was originally called the Badge of Military Merit. The Badge was awarded to honor those who displayed “unusual gallantry” or “extraordinary fidelity and essential service” to the fight for “life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness”. Washington recognized the importance of each soldier’s contribution to this fight, and so created the Badge as the first American military honor available to the common soldier. On the day it was instituted, Washington wrote in his orderly book: “The road to glory in a patriot army and a free country is thus open to all.”
The first recipients of this award were Sergeant William Brown and Sergeant Elijah Churchill, on May 3, 1783. They were both commended for gallantry during battles in New York, and were two of only three soldiers to receive this prestigious award in the Revolutionary War.
After not being awarded for over a century, the Badge (renamed the Purple Heart) was reinstituted by General Douglas MacArthur in 1932 on the bicentennial of George Washington’s birth, and the new design aptly featured Washington’s profile on the medal. Today, the Purple Heart is awarded to those who have been “wounded or killed in any action against an enemy of the United States or as a result of an act of any such enemy or opposing armed forces.”
We should take time today to be grateful for the extraordinary sacrifice made by our men and women in uniform, and to remember that they voluntarily put themselves in danger in order to protect the liberties of the American people. We cannot let that sacrifice be in vain.