Nestled on a shelf in the living room curio cabinet is my grandfather’s World War II keepsakes. Included is a picture of him in uniform, a pilot logbook, and numerous medals. In his medals collection lies my grandfather’s purple heart. He received this honor from an injury obtained while parachuting out of an airplane that had been shot down by the Germans over Italy. While the injury wasn’t major, the Purple Heart serves as a reminder of the sacrifices my grandfather and many other soldiers made while fighting for our country.
The Meaning of the Purple Heart
August 7 is known as National Purple Heart Day and commemorates the creation of this honor in 1782. Historians state the Purple Heart was developed by General George Washington, who was then the commander-in-chief of the Continental Army. The medal was originally named the Badge of Military Merit. Interesting fact: the Badge of Military Merit was awarded to three Revolutionary War soldiers in 1783. However, the military medal wouldn’t be given again until 1932 to soldiers in the Armed Forces who were wounded or killed on or after April 5, 1917. This year, 1932, was also when the Badge of Military Merit was renamed the Purple Heart, to honor President Washington’s birthday bicentennial. According to the United States Army’s website, Purple Hearts are now presented to soldiers in the Armed Forces who have been “wounded, killed, or died from a wound received” during an enemy attack. It is also given to those who were injured, wounded, or died while they were prisoners of war. Today, it is estimated that over 1.8 million Purple Hearts have been awarded.
The Symbolism behind the Design
Many people recognize the medal as a sign of bravery. Researchers have stated the award is purple, because it represents the blood and courage of the soldiers in the Armed Forces. The heart-shaped medal has gold trim and a profile image of George Washington. Above the heart is a shield with Washington’s coat of arms between green leaves. On the back, the words for military merit are inscribed below the same coat of arms and leaves. Lastly, the heart hangs from a purple ribbon with stripes along the edges. The design of the current Purple Heart is said to be based on the original color of the Badge of Military Merit.
More than a Medal
The Purple Heart has a different meaning for everyone, especially for those who served in the military. Vietnam veteran Doug Magruder is a Purple Heart recipient. On February 5, 1969, he was hit by an AK47 ricochet during a firefight. The bullet bounced off something and hit Magruder in his left buttock.
“I was hospitalized for several days and was automatically given a Purple Heart. In that same firefight, Specialist Fourth Class Chester Jon Kmit, Walking Point, was Killed In Action (KIA). Walking Point is the most life threading position of a Combat Infantry Company! Any soldier who did it knew that his life was in danger.” said Magruder.
“Walking Point” means that soldier on that day will usually be the first to make contact with the enemy. Four out of five of the men KIA in Magruder’s Platoon were either Walking Point or right behind the Point Man. Prior to being wounded on February 5, Magruder had been “superficially” wounded on December 5, 1968 and January 5, 1969. Because he had already lost four soldiers KIA, he did not think these minor wounds needed to be reported. Following are the 5 soldiers in Magruder’s Platoon who paid the ultimate sacrifice for their Purple Heart:
- Private First Class Michael J. Cromie, November 18, 1968
- Specialist Fourth Class Donald R. Stoltz, December 4, 1968
- Staff Sergeant William C. Williams, December 4, 1968
- Specialist Fourth Class Willie G. Jones, December 4, 1968
- Specialist Fourth Class Chester Jon Kmit, February 5, 1969
“I believe the true recipients are those who were killed in action while serving,” explained Magruder. “According to the Army, I only have one official Purple Heart, but that’s okay with me. It puts me in the company of the young men who gave their lives for our country.”
To honor these five young men, Magruder is developing plans to remember the 50th anniversary of their deaths from November 2018 through February 2019.
Observing National Purple Heart Day
There are multiple ways you can take part in National Purple Heart Day. First, check to see if your community is hosting a remembrance service or an event to thank the recipients. Also, fly your American flag and encourage family and friends to listen to the veterans and soldiers talk about their military service.
It doesn’t take much to observe National Purple Heart Day but it could mean the world to a Purple Heart recipient. Don’t forget to tell them “thank you” for the sacrifices they made for our country.