The Purple Heart

The Purple Heart is  the oldest U.S. military decoration awarded to those wounded or killed while serving. It replaced the Badge of Military Merit established by General George Washington during the American Revolution, which was a heart made of purple cloth.

Army Chief of Staff Charles Pelot Summerall was the first to attempt to revive the award in 1927. However, it was General Douglass MacArthur who is credited with completing the task by assigning the Washington Commission of Fine Arts to create a new design in 1931. Elizabeth Will, an Army heraldic specialist in the Office of Quartermaster General, accepted the challenge and crafted one of the most iconic medals recognized today, a bust of George Washington centered against a purple background. 

By Executive Order, the Purple Heart was officially revived for the 200th anniversary of Washington’s birth on February 22, 1932. At first, it was exclusively awarded to Army and Army Air Corps personnel, but it was expanded to include all branches of the American military by an executive order on December 3, 1942. During World War II, some 1,076,245 Purple Heart medals were awarded. 

This Purple Heart, featured in the Art and Object of World War II, was presented to Army serviceman, Stanley Wojtowicz, for his bravery during some of the most significant battles of the European Theater and the Northern Africa Campaign in WWII.  A highly decorated soldier, Wojtowicz saw action in Normandy, Rhineland, Sicily, Algeria, French Morocco, and the Ardennes.

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