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Purple Heart

U.S. Air Force graphic by Staff Sgt. Alexx Pons

U.S. Air Force graphic by Staff Sgt. Alexx Pons


This award, the modern form of the original Purple Heart established by Gen. George Washington in 1782, is conferred on any person wounded in action while serving with the armed forces of the United States. It is also awarded posthumously to the next of kin of personnel killed or having died of wounds received in action after April 5, 1917.



The Purple Heart is awarded for wounds or death as result of an act of any opposing armed force, as a result of an international terrorist attack or as a result of military operations while serving as part of a peacekeeping force.



The heart-shaped medal, one of the best known and also one of the most beautiful of our decorations, was designed by Elizabeth Will and modeled by John R. Sinnock. The inner heart on the obverse is of purple plastic (originally enamel), and the sculptured outer heart of gold-colored metal. On the Purple Heart General Washington is shown in profile, facing left, in a relief also of gold-colored metal. Above this heart is Washington's coat of arms, an enamel shield of white with two horizontal bands of red, and above them three red stars with sprays of green leaves on either side of the shield.


The reverse of the medal is entirely of gold-colored metal, including the shield and leaves. Within the sculptured outer heart and below the shield is the inscription, set in three lines, “For Military Merit,” with a space below for the recipient's name. The ribbon is deep purple with narrow white edges.


Second and subsequent awards of the Purple Heart are denoted by a gold star for Navy and Marine Corps personnel and by an oak leaf cluster for Army and Air Force personnel.



Oak Leaf Cluster



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