The Purple Heart is a military award given to United State soldiers who are injured or killed in combat. Since April 1917 the medal has been awarded in the name of the President of the United States to men and women of the armed forces (and, for a brief period, to civilians who were injured in meritorious action with the enemy). The Purple Heart medal is indeed a purple heart with a profile relief statue of George Washington. Above his head is the coat of arms of the Washington family (who were descended from British nobles) which consists of red and white bars beneath three red stars with holes in them. The medal hangs from a purple ribbon with silver-white edges—which is also what the service ribbon for the Purple Heart looks like.
In 1945, the United States military was planning an all-out amphibious assault on Japan. Military planners reckoned that this campaign would lead to an unprecedented number of casualties, so the Pentagon ordered 500,000 purple hearts to give to the troops injured or killed. However, thanks to hard-working scientists, the physical nature of the universe, and President Truman’s uncompromising orders, the assault on Japan became unnecessary. In all succeeding years (and throughout all subsequent wars), total American casualties have never approached this number, so Purple Heart awards given out today are practically antiques.
The Purple Heart is an incredibly distinctive looking award with a unique name and a powerful, unusual color. What is the meaning behind the color of the medal? The color and shape of the medal were conceived by no less a person than George Washington himself in the midst of the Revolutionary War. Washington wanted to award common soldiers who had committed deeds of unusual merit and he commanded that such soldiers be honored with the Badge of Military Merit, a purple heart shaped patch sewn onto their uniform. The Badge of Military Merit is generally viewed as the first military award of the United States Armed Services, but, most unfortunately we do not know what exactly the enigmatic Washington was thinking when he chose the color (although the meaning of the shape, at least, seems obvious). Perhaps the general associated purple with the noble qualities of sacrifice, valor, and courage which the badge was meant to embody. Whatever the case, Purple Hearts bear a unique personal connection to George Washington, the foremost of the fathers of the nation.