The Cincinnati Chapter of the Sons of the American Revolution was joined by five members of the Hocking Valley Chapter in supportof the Purple Heart Day ceremony and celebration at Fountain Square in Downtown Cincinnati Aug. 7. This event is hosted by chapters of the Military Order of the Purple Heart (No. 3620 & No. 156) and sponsored by the Fifth Third Bank and Korean War Veterans Assn. of Greater Cincinnati at the P&G stage in Cincinnati.
On Aug. 7, 1782, George Washington created the Purple Heart award. Washington had long wanted an award for average soldiers who performed meritoriously in combat. From his headquarters at Newburgh, New York, Washington issued an order that read in part:
“The General ever desirous to cherish virtuous ambition in his soldiers, as well as to foster and encourage every species of Military merit, directs that whenever any singularly meritorious action is performed, the author of it shall be permitted to wear on his facings over the left breast, the figure of a heart in purple cloth, or silk, edged with narrow lace or binding. Not only instances of unusual gallantry, but also of extraordinary fidelity and essential service in any way shall meet with a due reward.”
The heart-shaped purple cloth medal was originally called the “Badge of Military Merit,” and contained the word “Merit,” surrounded by oak leaves. Those awarded the medal were to have their name recorded in a special book and were given the privilege of walking through any sentry or guard, just like officers could do. This was the first time a major military power awarded average soldiers for meritorious conduct in a time when awards usually went to the officers.
Historians have verified only three recipients of the Badge of Military Merit during the Revolution, though there are some others who may have received it. One who did is Sgt. William Brown 1759-1808, who is buried at the Pioneer Cemetery near Lunken Airport in Cincinnati. The reason for so few awards of the medal is unclear, but it probably had to do with the fact that the war was almost over when it was created. The medal was never officially discontinued, but fell out of use for over a century.
In 1918, Gen.John Pershing revived the idea of a badge of merit. Gen.Charles Summerall, US Army Chief of Staff, pushed the idea of reviving the badge in 1927. In 1931, his successor, Gen.Douglas MacArthur, pushed the idea further and the US War Department announced the creation of the “Order of the Purple Heart” on George Washington’s 200th birthday, Feb. 22,1932. The awards could be given to anyone who met certain criteria back to April 5, 1917.
The ceremony included the presentation of a framed Purple Heart Stamp to the Korean War Veterans Association, the “Missing Man Ceremony” performed by Green Township VFW Post 10380 and the reading of the names of 80 service members with ties to the Cincinnati area who fought and died in Operations Enduring Freedom, Iraqi Freedom and New Dawn.
With the retiring of the colors and the playing of Taps this sobering ceremony was concluded with a casual audience in the misting rain.
Michael B. Gunn, Ph.D.,
Past President, CCSAR