Military Archive Research
by Dr. Stuart C Blank
Member of the Orders and Medals Research Society (OMRS)
Member of the Royal Air Force Historical Society (RAFHS)
Member of the Naval Historical Collectors and Research Association (NHCRA)
Member of the Nautical Archaeology Society (NAS)
Member of the International Bank Note Society (IBNS)
Member of the International Bond and Share Society (IBSS)




Review of
For Military Merit – Recipients of the Purple Heart
By Fred L Borch
ISBN 9781591140863
Naval Institute Press (

The Purple Heart must be amongst the most famous medals issued by the United States of America. Since its institution there have been over one million of them awarded. The book details how the medal was created as the Badge of Military Merit by General Washington in 1782. After the Revolutionary War the badge became forgotten until it was revived by General Douglas MacArthur in 1932.

Today’s Purple Heart has its roots in the Badge of Military Merit. Since 1932 the design of the Purple Heart has remained relatively unchanged but the criteria for its award has undergone major modifications. The book discusses how the award criteria has evolved including a discussion of World War 1 and later awards for meritorious service and the transformation of the Purple Heart into a “wounds only” decoration in World War 2.

The original criteria were that the individual must be wounded in action “against an enemy of the United States”. This was later expanded to “hostile foreign force” so that those injured on “peacekeeping”, “international terrorist attacks” and as prisoners of war could be entitled to it. A difficult area regarding the award has always been what type of combat injury qualifies as a wound.

When the Purple Heart was revived in 1932 it was not expressly established as a decoration for wounds. It was for any single “act” of “fidelity” or “essential service” but the regulations did note that combat wounds might qualify as an act of fidelity or service. However not all combat injuries qualified. The award was made retrospective to the First World War and of the 77958 applications 75000 made were on the basis of being wounded whilst fighting the Germans.

This has made the Purple Heart to be considered as a “wound badge”. Prior to World War 2 the medal could not be issued posthumously. After Pearl Harbour the criteria was changed and posthumous awards were granted. A further change to the regulations in 1942 made the Purple Heart an exclusive award for combat injuries and the Legion of Merit was introduced as a junior decoration for meritorious service making the issue of the Purple Heart for meritorious service redundant.

The bulk of the book constitutes numerous citations for the award. These citations are organised into soldiers (Revolutionary War to Afghanistan / Iraq), Sailors (Spanish American War to Afghanistan / Iraq), Airmen (WW1 to date), Marines (Spanish American War to Afghanistan / Iraq), Coast Guard (WW1 to date), Civilians, Families and Celebrities. Each of these citations makes an interesting read and illustrates the bravery of personnel in combat.

If you are interested in medals in general, American medals, wound badges / medals or more specifically the Purple Heart then this guide is undoubtedly the most interesting book on this award. It comes highly recommended and is a fascinating read.

December 2010