Nearly 2 million people have received the oldest decorated medal given to U.S. military members since August 7th, 1782, when it began as the “Badge of Military Merit.”

In 2014, Purple Heart Day, August 7th, was established and observed for the first time and continues to be a day of honoring those who have received the Purple Heart. So, why is it an important day to recognize? 

George Nickel speaking at the 2023 Purple Heart Luncheon in Meridian, Idaho on August 7, 2023.

“The observance of a day honoring those awarded the Purple Heart medal fits into the same reasons that we observe Memorial Day and Veterans Day. The award of the Purple Heart is presented to those service members who have been wounded or killed in action. Those who choose to join military service do so for various reasons, but in that enlistment, they are committing to enter into conflict if needed and honor the oath taken to defend the county. The cost of this commitment and the willingness to put oneself in harm’s way comes at a great personal cost. A nation that does not honor those that have a willingness to stand up for the country’s values may find themselves lacking in this capacity when future conflict arises.” – George Nickel, Director of Veteran Services with the Wyakin Foundation, and a member of the Military Order of the Purple Heart Idaho Chapter 509 had this to say about Purple Heart Day.

The military heritage started with another George, one everyone knows, George Washington. Washington established the “Badge of Military Merit,” the first award for valor and meritorious service for the U.S. Army in 1782. The first badges were given to three sergeants in Washington’s army, and in the beginning, it was a cloth purple heart worn over the left breast. Sadly, for 150 years, the “Badge of Military Merit” was forgotten until World War I. Then medals for valor and merit were awarded, and a wound ribbon and medal were introduced but later replaced by wound chevrons sewn on the lower sleeve of a uniform until 1932, when it got the look and name it has today. 

It wasn’t until 1942 when President Franklin D. Roosevelt authorized the Purple Heart to be presented to any U.S. military personnel wounded or killed in action on or after December 7th, 1941. It is also the highest award granted as soon as criteria are met by any officer or enlisted individual.

In 2023 the list of eligible Purple Hearts is far too long to list here, but overall, it is awarded to members of the Armed Forces of the United States who have been wounded, killed in action, or have died or may die from wounds received. If any of these are due to hostile “foreign force” against the United States, friendly fire if it was intended for the enemy, or if injuries, wounds, or death occur while a prisoner of war (POW), then the Purple Heart is given.

Left to right: Mindi Anderson with the Idaho Veterans Chamber of Commerce along with George Nickel, Cory Rodriguez, and Alice Pyle with the Wyakin Foundation on August 7, 2023 at the 2023 Purple Heart Luncheon.

Nationally, a nonprofit organization is dedicated to being the voice of those who have received the Purple Heart, known as the Military Order of the Purple Heart. Their mission gives ample oversight as to why they were created. “The mission of the Military Order of the Purple Heart is to foster an environment of goodwill and camaraderie among combat-wounded veterans, promote patriotism, support necessary legislative initiatives, and most importantly, provide service to all veterans and their families. Our members are Combat Wounded Veterans who are dedicated to our country and our veteran community. We endeavor to do better for each other and by each other always. Congress charters us for combat-wounded Veterans. The Purple Heart is composed of military men and women who received the Purple Heart Medal for wounds suffered in combat or by an act of international terrorism. Although our membership is restricted to the combat wounded, we support all veterans and their families with a myriad of nationwide programs by Chapters and National Service Officers -Military Order of the Purple Heart. “Our Mission” is honored to partner with the Military Order of the Purple Heart, Idaho Department Chapter 509.

Nickel said, “As a recipient of the award, I know that my service and sacrifice to this nation is honored and respected by those who mean the most to me and those who share the beliefs and values that this country was founded upon. The Idaho chapter of the Military Order of the Purple Heart continues serving fellow veterans in the community through fellowship and focusing resources to provide relief for those in need of assistance.”