American Legion highlights the Purple Heart medal

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Courtesy of the Society of the Cincinnati in the State of New Hampshire; photograph, Dennis A. Waters

Original Purple Heart instituted by George Washington.

Among the many plaques on the north wall of the legion post hangs a large copy of a stamp issued in 2003, a 37-cent stamp depicting the Purple Heart medal. How did this medal come to be?

The first of these U.S. military decorations was instituted by General George Washington in 1782 and awarded for bravery in action. The records show that only three men received it during the American Revolution, all of them noncommissioned officers. Two of these coveted badges still exist. The original medal, sewn onto the coat, was simply a purple heart-shaped piece of cloth edged with silver braid. Although this was the medal of honor of the Revolution, it seems to have been forgotten for about 150 years. The 200th anniversary of Washington’s birth (February 22, 1932) marked the revival of the award.

The current purpose of the medal is as an award for those wounded or killed  and awarded posthumously in the service of their country. An Oak Leaf Cluster is granted to a member of the U.S Army or Air Force who has been previously wounded and who already has a Purple Heart, and a Gold Star is awarded to a member of the Navy, Marine Corps or Coast Guard for the same purpose.

Perhaps one of the most beautifully designed of all U.S. decorations, the medal is a purple heart-shaped badge with bronze edges that depicts a profile relief bust of Washington in the uniform of a general in the Continental Army. The reverse side bears the inscription “For Military Merit” with the recipient’s name below.

The Purple Heart. Photo courtesy of Stockphoto/Thinkstock

The National Purple Heart Museum in Enfield is a memorial honoring service and sacrifice of America’s veterans. Originally called the Badge of Military Merit, the first medal was presented by George Washington to Sgt. Elijah Churchill on May 3, 1783. Since then, it is estimated that over a million men and women of all ranks, from every branch of military service, have been awarded the medal no one tries to win—The Purple Heart.

If you know of a Granby resident that has received this distinguished honor, we would like to hear. We will print a list of names in a future article.